Would you be surprised to learn that almost 79 million people in the United States live with HPV? And most of the time they don’t even know it?
HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a very common virus found in both women and men. Often HPV goes untreated because it causes no symptoms, is usually harmless and the body’s immune system eliminates it in about a year or two. Certain types of HPV can cause genital warts and still others can increase a woman’s risk of cervical cancer if not detected early. No matter which type you might come in contact with, here are the 5 things you should know about HPV:
1. Get vaccinated.
The HPV vaccine can not only help prevent infection, but also more importantly, subsequent warts and cancers. As virtually everyone will be exposed to HPV during their lifetime, the best way to prevent HPV is by vaccination. The HPV vaccine is very safe and extremely effective. The CDC recommends that all boys and girls should start vaccination at age 11 but it’s available for adults up to age 26.
2. Don’t skip your well-woman visit.
Your annual Pap test can detect abnormal cell changes in the cervix caused by HPV. You can also ask your health care provider for an HPV test to determine if you have the virus and may be at higher risk for cervical cancer. If you’re 30 or older, your health care provider may recommend both; a Pap/HPV co-test.
3. There is no treatment for HPV.
Don’t panic. While there isn’t a treatment for the HPV virus at this time, health care providers are equipped to treat the diseases and symptoms of the virus. If detected early, HPV-induced cancers are very treatable.
Pregnant women who have been diagnosed with HPV still have the option of natural delivery and can normally expect a healthy baby. Voice any concerns with your health care provider.
5. It can get emotional.
Any diagnosis can cause feelings of fear and anxiety. Since HPV’s transmission is usually through intimate contact, it can also carry with it the stigma of an STD. The important thing to remember is that it’s a very common virus (much like the flu virus) and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. If you learn that you do have HPV, talk to your partner about it and encourage him or her to also get tested. HPV can take a long time to develop symptoms so diagnosis shouldn’t result in the assumption that someone has been unfaithful.
During the month of January, Cervical Cancer Awareness month, the Georgia Cancer Center is offering free Pap and HPV testing. The Georgia Cancer Center is also conducting several clinical studies for women with moderate to severe precancers of the cervix and vulva that are caused by HPV 16 or 18. For more information, please contact Angela Goebel at (706) 721-2535.