It’s cervical cancer awareness month – so what does that have to do with HPV? If you don’t know the answer, you need to read this article.
Here are the vital facts about the human papillomavirus (HPV) you need to know to stay safe. Remember to share this knowledge with friends and loved ones – it could help to save their lives.
1.HPV is the most common type of STI
HPV is a type of sexually transmitted infection (STI), and it’s passed between people during unprotected genital contact. There are more than 100 types of HPV. Some of them cause genital warts, while other types are responsible for cervical cancer.
2. HPV usually has no symptoms
As you read this, you could have HPV in your body. There are often no physical signs of having the infection, which also means you could be passing it on without realising it.
3.Your skin and your body’s moist membranes are targeted by HPV
When HPV starts to manifest in your body, it will most likely affect the lining of your mouth and throat, your vulva, cervix, vagina and/or anus.
4.HPV affects a whopping 80% of sexually active men and women
At some point in their lives, four out of five people will be infected with the virus, but most never know they have it.
5. Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV and genital warts
HPV is spread through direct skin-to-skin genital contact with someone who is carrying the virus. This means if you have any kind of unprotected sex – vaginal, anal and/or oral – you could become infected. If you contract the type of HPV that causes genital warts, you may start to notice hard, rough lumps on the skin around your genital area.
In women, these warts most often appear on the vulva (the outer area of the female genitalia), in or around the vagina, in or around the anus, on the groin (where the genitals meet the inner thigh), or on the cervix.
6.You can easily lower your risk of HPV
Using condoms every time you have sex can help reduce your exposure to the infection. Be aware, however, that condoms do not cover all of the genital skin, so they are not 100% effective in protecting against the spread of HPV. If you’re worried that you or your partner might be infected, stop all sexual activity right away and visit your doctor or clinic for immediate treatment. Avoiding sex of any kind until the warts are gone might help reduce the risk of spreading the infection.
If you’re a woman, you need to have regular pelvic exams and pap smears to check for any abnormal, pre-cancerous changes in the cervix.
7.There’s a vaccine that can help protect you against HPV
The first approved HPV vaccine is now available for females aged nine to 26, and it protects against the development of cervical cancer and genital warts. It’s also approved for males aged nine to 26 to help protect against genital warts.
8.HPV is almost always the cause of cervical cancer
Certain strains of HPV can cause changes in the cells of the cervix – a condition called cervical dysplasia. If untreated, dysplasia can develop into cervical cancer. Even though HPV is almost always the cause of cervical cancer, it’s doesn’t mean that a woman with HPV or cervical dysplasia will get cervical cancer.
9.Regular pap smears are the best protection against cervical cancer
Cervical cancer is almost always preventable or treatable if pre-cancerous changes are detected and treated early, before the cancer develops. That’s where pap smears come in: they can detect any abnormalities before they develop into something untreatable.
For women under the age of 30, HPV infection is usually transient and goes away on its own. By age 30, detection of HPV during pap smears can be used to help determine the appropriate interval for screening. The absence of high-risk HPV types indicates that a woman is at low risk for developing cervical changes related to the risk of cervical cancer. Depending on your smear results, you may need annual tests, or less regular screening. It’s always advisable to go for annual well woman check-ups, even if your pap smear is normal.
10. In 90% of cases, HPV clears up on its own
Most people with HPV do not develop any further health problems after the infection has passed: in nine out of 10 cases, it clears up within about two years. But sometimes these infections do not clear and can cause genital warts, warts in the throat (in rare cases), and cervical cancer in females or penile cancer in males. Although there are no treatments for HPV, fortunately there are treatments for these conditions.
Bonus fact: You can go to Marie Stopes for caring, confidential treatment
Marie Stopes offers a full range of sexual healthcare services for men and women. Whether you need confidential STI screening and treatment, pap smears or your annual women’s wellness check-up, we’ll provide quality treatment in a caring, judgement-free environment. Trust us: there’s nothing we haven’t seen, and nothing to feel embarrassed about.