HPV stands for the Human Papillomavirus and is currently the most common sexually transmitted infection worldwide.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that nearly 20 million Americans between age 15 and 24 years old have HPV. This is the virus that causes genital warts as well as those abnormal changes on your pap test that can lead to cervical cancer.
There are many strains of HPV with some remaining dormant, not doing anything (that we know of), and others causing problems.
When you go for your pap test, you can have your healthcare practitioner include a ‘high-risk HPV test’ for greater accuracy about whether you have HPV in your cervical area. It’s the ‘high-risk’ HPV that causes abnormal cells to occur on your cervix and can lead to cervical cancer.
How likely are you to acquire HPV?
Well, the lifetime risk in sexually active people is about 80-85%...which is a lot.
Does this mean you will automatically develop cervical cancer? Absolutely not!
The prevalence of HPV infections is greatest in young, sexually active women between the ages of 20 – 24 years old with the next highest rate being 15-19 years old.
The kicker though is figuring out exactly where your HPV infection came from if you’ve had 2 or more sexual partners. The virus can lay dormant for many years before causing an abnormal pap test. Because men are often asymptomatic, you could be well into your 30’s, 40’s and even 50’s before something comes up and it may be from a sexual encounter during your teen years.
Here’s the great thing – 80% of HPV infections are transient, asymptomatic and resolve without any treatment. In fact, the average length of infection is about 4-6 months. However, there are many risk factors that promote HPV you can prevent.
1)Stop smoking!! Research shows that the link between smoking and HPV is extensive. The number of cigarettes per day and number of years smoking correlates with the severity of your HPV infection.
2)Re-think your hormonal contraception. The estrogen in your pill, ring or patch is contributing to your HPV infection.
3)Having sex at an early age (before 16) exposes your cervix to HPV sooner.
4)Multiple sexual partners increase your risk of HPV exposure. Even if your numbers are low, what are the numbers of your partner?
5)Watch your waistline – some studies are linking obesity with increased chances of cervical adenocarcinoma – a type of cancer.
6)HPV is a contact sport – it is spread when skin touches skin. If you use condoms 100% of the time you are 70% less likely to acquire HPV.
7)Get other testing – having HIV or Chlamydia greatly increases your chance of a more invasive HPV infection.
8)Get your pap test! Have your healthcare provider include the high-risk test for HPV.
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About Dr. Jones, N.D.:
Dr. Carrie Jones is a Naturopathic Physician with a focus on women’s health and hormones. She has a private practice outside of Portland, Oregon and is an adjunct professor at The National College of Natural Medicine.
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