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HPV: The Basics

By HERWriter
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HPV is said to be the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. But there are a lot of people – young and old – who do not know much about it. Learning more about this virus is a good way to prevent it.

HPV stands for human papillomavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report at least 50 percent of sexually active men and women contract it at some point in their lives. HPV is not the same as herpes or HIV, the virus that can lead to AIDS.

There are more than 100 types of HPV. Some types produce warts like plantar warts and common hand warts. About 40 types of HPV can infect nearly all parts of the genital area such as the vulva, vagina, cervix, rectum and penis. It can also cause genital warts. Other HPV types infect the mouth and throat.

Most HPV infections have no harmful effect at all, but about 30 types can lead to different types of cancer. In women, cervix, vulva, vagina, and anus cancers can result. In men, it can lead to cancers of the anus and penis.

HPV often leaves those infected with no symptoms or health problems. In 90 percent of cases, the body’s immune system naturally rids itself of HPV within 24 months. HPV infections that do not go away can stay undetected for years. That makes it impossible to determine exactly when someone became infected, how long they've been infected, or who passed the infection to them.

HPV is passed through genital contact, most often during vaginal and anal sex. It may also be passed during oral sex and genital-to-genital contact. HPV can be passed on between straight and same-sex partners, even when the infected partner has no signs or symptoms.

There are several ways people can reduce their chances of becoming infected with HPV. Condoms are one way. To be most effective, they should be used with every sex act, from start to finish. Condoms may also lower the risk of developing HPV-related diseases, such as genital warts and cervical cancer. But condoms do not fully protect against the virus as it can infect areas not covered by a condom.

Vaccines can protect males and females against some of the most common types of HPV.

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EmpowHER Guest

There is also a test for HPV that, if you are 21-29, will be performed if your pap test comes back ASCUS, which means atypical sells of undertemined significance. The HPV result will help your doctor determine if the ASCUS is related to cervical disease or has some other origin. If you are 30 to 65 years old, your doctor should be doing an HPV test ALONG WITH THE PAP TEST! Some doctors do this routinely but ASK your doctor before your exam and if they say they do not do the test because you don't need it, INSIST that they give it to you! It is the only way to determine 1) if you have the virus that could cause cervical disease 2) if you do have the virus, your immune system is working to supress it. In most cases, even if you test positibe for HPV the first time you are tested, you will not get cervical disease. Your immine system will kick in and supress it. When you come back next year, the doctor will do a pap and another HPV test to see if your immune system did it's job. If it didn't, the doctor will do a colposcopy, or a visual insoection of the cervix and take some biopsies to make sure that nothing is abnormal. This happens in approximately 4% of patients. At that point, the doctor will determine if any additional treatments are necessary. The good news about getting an HPV test is that in most cases,you can detect cervical disease before it turns to cancer and treat it with much less invasive procedures.
Don't ask your doctor if they will give you and HPV test...INSIST they give it to you!!!!!

July 29, 2010 - 6:39am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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