Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Q & A
What is HPV?
HPV is a term used to describe a group of 150 or more related viruses, each of which has a designated number. Some cause no identifiable health issues, and your immune system effectively fights them off. You might not ever be aware that an infection occurred.
In other cases, HPV viruses are transmitted through oral, vaginal, or anal sex, and can cause serious health problems, including:
- Genital warts
- Cervical cancer
- Vaginal cancer
- Cancer of the penis
- Cancer of the anus
- Vulvar cancer
- Certain oral cancers
Many types of HPV are completely asymptomatic, which is part of why it’s so easily spread. Getting screened is the only way to know for sure if you or your partner has HPV.
Who’s at risk of contracting HPV?
Not all types of HPV are sexually transmitted, but those that are can spread through simple skin-to-skin genital contact. That includes any type of intimate touching as well as oral, vaginal, or anal sex.
Being screened for HPV and then limiting all sexual activity to a monogamous partner who has also been screened for HPV is the only way to prevent it. Anyone can contract an HPV infection, but young people between the ages of 15-24 have the highest risk.
Fortunately, vaccination can drastically reduce the risk of contracting certain types of HPV.
How can the HPV vaccine help protect me or my child?
The HPV vaccine protects against four types of HPV, including those that cause genital warts and cervical cancer. While it’s still possible to contract genital warts or cervical cancer even after vaccination, the risk is vastly reduced.
National health experts recommend that girls receive the HPV vaccine between the ages of nine and 12. That timing ensures that girls are vaccinated before their first sexual contact and first potential exposure to HPV.
The HPV vaccine is usually given as a series of three injections spaced out over several months. Increasingly, boys are also receiving HPV vaccinations to further reduce the spread of disease.
What are the treatment options for HPV?
There’s no cure for HPV, but there are treatments that can minimize symptoms. Women who test positive for HPV should also have frequent screenings to ensure there are no abnormal cell changes in their cervix or other reproductive organs.
If abnormal cells are found, they can be removed through these procedures:
- Cone biopsy
- Laser therapy
- Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP)
If you have genital warts, they can be treated with prescription creams or trichloroacetic acid. Freezing, burning, or surgical excision can also remove some genital warts.