You may have heard about HPV in television commercials, but it is not something people have common knowledge about. HPV can cause serious issues, so you need to know the facts. Here, I’ll explain what HPV is, how you can get it and what you can do to prevent it.
HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a group of more than 150 related viruses and each virus is given a number that is its HPV type. HPV is named for the warts (papillomas) that some HPV types can cause, but some other types can lead to cancer. Men and women can get cancer of the mouth, throat, anus and rectum. Men can get penile HPV cancer and HPV in women can also cause cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers.
So how can you get HPV? It is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. It is most commonly spread during vaginal or anal sex but can also be spread through oral sex. HPV is actually so common that nearly all men and women get it at some point throughout their lives. HPV may not even show signs or symptoms in an infected person. A person may develop symptoms years after being infected, so it is hard to know the exact time when infection occurred.
HPV usually goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. However, it may not go away and can cause health issues like genital warts and cancer.
Genital warts usually show up as a small bump or a group of bumps in the genital area. They range in size and shape from small or large, raised or flat or shaped like cauliflower. If you are unsure if you have genital warts, your health care provider can usually diagnose them by just looking.
HPV cancers include cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis or anus. An HPV infection can also cause cancer in the back of the throat, base of the tongue and tonsils.
HPV needs to be taken seriously. Cervical cancer is the easiest gynecologic cancer to prevent and you can do so with regular screenings. Pap smears look for precancers, or cell changes on the cervix that could develop into cervical cancer if they are not treated.
A Pap smear is recommended for all women between the ages of 21 and 65 years old. Women aged 21 to 29 should have a Pap smear every 3 years. Starting at age 30, a Pap smear should be combined with an HPV test every 5 years or you can continue with having Pap smears every 3 years as before.
There are also safe and effective HPV vaccines recommended to prevent health problems from happening. The HPV vaccine is given in a series of doses. One of those is GARDASIL 9.
GARDASIL 9 helps protect girls and women ages 9 to 26 against cervical, vaginal, vulvar and anal cancers and genital warts caused by 9 types of HPV. It also helps protect boys and men ages 9 to 26 against anal cancer and genital warts cause by those same HPV types. While the vaccine helps, it may not fully protect everyone and does not prevent all types of cervical cancer. That is why it is extremely important to get routine screenings.
If you would like more information about HPV and HPV vaccines, contact your family’s health care provider. If you are in need of a pediatrician for your child or a primary care physician for yourself, call 317-880-8687 or visit www.eskenazihealth.edu/doctors.
Nydia Nunez-Estrada, M.D.
Eskenazi Health Urgent Care East