January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month! Here are ten things you should know about HPV and cervical cancer.
HPV IS COMMON
Most Sexually active individuals have HPV at some points. At any time there are approximately 79 million people in the U.S. with HPV.
Some types of HPV can cause genital warts while some other, different types are linked to cervical cell changes that, if not detected early, can increase a woman’s risk for cervical cancer. HPV also causes some cancers of the penis, anus, vagina, vulva and throat. HPV infections are usually harmless, though, and most are cleared naturally by the body in a year or two.
HPV vaccines can help prevent infection from both high risk HPV types that can lead to cervical cancer and low risk types that cause genital warts. The CDC recommends all boys and girls get the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12 as the vaccine produces a stronger immune response when taken during the preteen years. For this reason, up until age 14, only two doses are the vaccine are required. The vaccine is available for all males and females through age 45 but, for those 15 and older, a full three-dose series is needed.
HPV is usually passed by a genital-to-genital and genital-to-anal contact (even without penetration). The virus can also be transmitted by oral to genital contact, although this probably occurs less often. Studies show that male condoms can reduce HPV transmission to females, although condoms only protect the skin they cover.
A Pap test can find cell changes to the cervix caused by HPV. HPV tests find the virus and help healthcare providers know which women are at highest risk for cervical cancer. Pap and HPV tests (either alone or in combination) are recommended for women over 30: each woman should ask her health care provider how often she should be screened and which tests are right for her.
There’s no treatment for the virus itself, but healthcare providers have plenty of options to treat diseases caused by HPV.
It takes weeks, months, or even years after exposure to HPV before symptoms develop or the virus is detected. This is why it is usually impossible to determine when or from whom HPV may have been contracted. A recent diagnosis of HPV does not necessarily mean anyone has been unfaithful, even in a long-term relationship spanning years.
Pregnant women with HPV almost always have natural deliveries and health babies – it is very rare for a newborn to get HPV from the mother.
THE EMOTIONAL SIDE
It can be upsetting when HPV is first diagnosed, but remember that having HPV is normal! It doesn’t mean that anyone did something wrong, just that like most others were exposed to a common infection. There are 14 million new HPV infections in the U.S. each year alone!
The American Sexual Health Association and the National Cervical Cancer Coalition have online support communities at Inspire.com that connects patients, partners, and caregivers. These are safe places where thousands of users find that information and support they need.
Article written by National Cervical Cancer Coalition.