For many women, the HPV vaccine wasn’t around when they were young enough to receive it, but even for those who were, the vaccine doesn’t protect you from all forms of the virus. There are plenty of misconceptions surrounding HPV, so here’s what every woman needs to know.
What is HPV?
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common STD. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 80 million people in the United States are infected with some form of the virus, and many of them are in their teens and early twenties.
The National Cancer Institute reports that there are nearly 200 types of HPV, some of which can be spread through direct sexual contact, resulting in genital and oral warts and, in severe cases, cancer. Other strains of HPV are far less scary, usually causing ordinary non-genital warts that you might find on your hands and feet.
While the mere thought of warts on your genitals, or even cancer, is terrifying, don’t be alarmed. If you do have HPV, there are several ways to treat warts and reduce the likelihood of your partner becoming infected.
Regular testing is critical
Most strains of HPV don’t present noticeable symptoms, and you simply can’t tell whether you or your partner has the virus unless there are visible genital warts. In fact, there’s a good chance your immune system will get rid of the HPV before it causes issues. Even high-risk viruses are known to resolve on their own within twelve months.
If the virus or its effects linger, your doctor can usually still treat any abnormal cells before they become cancerous, as long as you catch them early enough. That’s why regular testing and Pap smears are so important.
If you do contract the virus, we offer a number of treatment options here at New Beginnings OB-GYN. However, as with any infectious disease, prevention is key. In addition to practicing safe sex to reduce the spread of the virus, you should get vaccinated if you qualify and schedule regular Pap tests.
Both boys and girls should get the HPV vaccine around the age of eleven or twelve. If you didn’t get the vaccine when you were younger or you didn’t complete the series, it’s recommended that men between the ages of thirteen and twenty-one and women between the ages of thirteen and twenty-six be vaccinated.
After the age of 21, the vaccine is not as effective in lowering the risk of cancer.
Pap smears are designed to look at cells in the anus or cervix for any changes that could lead to cancer. The cells collected during a Pap smear can be used to determine if HPV is present and whether or not the type of virus puts you at risk for developing cancer.
It’s important to note that abnormal cervical cells do not necessarily indicate cervical cancer. If your doctor does identify abnormal cells during your Pap smear, they will bring you in for a follow-up visit, often performing a colposcopy — and in some cases a biopsy — to further examine your cells.
HPV is not typically life-threatening, but it’s important to get vaccinated and tested. Call New Beginnings OB-GYN in Las Vegas, or book an appointment online today.