You may have heard about a viral infection called human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV often causes changes in the cervix— the lower part of the uterus (womb) that connects the uterus to the vagina. High-risk HPV infections can also lead to cancer.
Here are the top 10 things you should know about HPV:
- HPV is a group of more than 150 viruses, 40 of which are sexually transmitted. At least eight out of every 10 women who have ever had sex will get HPV at some time in their lives. HPV is most common in young women who are in their late teens or early 20s, according to the American Cancer Society.
- It is possible to keep passing HPV back and forth from partner to partner. Condoms can help prevent HPV, but are not foolproof. HPV may be present on skin that is not covered by the condom. The only way to completely prevent giving or getting HPV is by not having vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
- There is no treatment for HPV viruses. There are treatments for the cell changes in the cervix that HPV can cause. If your Pap test shows cell changes, your doctor or nurse will discuss these treatments with you if you need them.
- It is unknown for certain once a person has some types of HPV if they could always be a carrier of the virus. Research conducted by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) show some types of HPV either goes away on its own, or cannot be found, within one to two years. This happens in 90 percent of women. Once the virus is gone, it is highly unlikely a person will contract that type of HPV again, but you can contract a different type. However, be aware some types of HPV can persist for years.
- Persistent HPV infections are now recognized as the cause of essentially all cervical cancers, according to NIH. It was estimated in 2010, about 12,000 women in the United States would be diagnosed with this type of cancer and more than 4,000 would die from it. Cervical cancer is diagnosed in nearly half a million women each year worldwide, claiming a quarter of a million lives annually.