Here's What You Need to Know About HPV and HPV Testing

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease; close to 80 million men and women in the United States have HPV. It usually goes away on its own, but when it doesn’t, it can cause potentially serious health problems.

Most women who have HPV are unaware that they have it, because it doesn’t usually cause symptoms. That’s why arming yourself with knowledge about HPV is a wise step in caring for your sexual health.

What is HPV?

Human papillomavirus refers to a group of viruses, some of which can cause warts in humans. Two types of HPV are linked to abnormal cervical changes that increase the risk of developing cervical cancer.

HPV causes most cases of cervical cancer

HPV infections cause most cases of cervical cancer. However, having HPV doesn’t mean that you will develop cervical cancer. An infection with either of the two strains known to cause nearly all cervical cancer does increase your risk. Keep in mind that most women who have HPV will not go on to develop cervical cancer.

HPV can cause throat and mouth cancer

It’s estimated that HPV causes 70% of oropharyngeal cancers. The oropharynx is the middle part of the throat. Oropharyngeal cancers can affect the tongue, tonsils, and back of the throat. HPV-related oropharyngeal cancers are diagnosed in men and women each year.

HPV-associated oropharyngeal cancers are on the rise. Close to 9,000 Americans are diagnosed with throat and mouth cancers caused by HPV annually.

Vaccination protects against health problems

The HPV vaccine protects against the two strains of HPV known to cause cervical cancer, as well as the two types that cause genital warts and five other types that can cause other health problems.

For teens and adults ages 15 to 45, the HPV vaccine is given in a series of three separate shots over the course of six months. Children and teens ages 9 to 14 are given two shots six months apart. The HPV vaccine is extremely effective at protecting against HPV-related cervical cancer, genital warts, and oropharyngeal cancers.

How does HPV testing work?

An HPV test checks for the two types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. The provider takes a small sample of the cells from your cervix. The cells are sent to a lab and tested to check for HPV.

It’s common to check for HPV during a routine pap test. A pap test is the most effective way to screen for cervical cancer. Pap smears can detect precancerous cells and catch problems before they develop into cancer.

Why is HPV testing performed?

An HPV test can tell you whether you have a high-risk strain of HPV that increases your risk of developing cervical cancer. Once you’re aware of your status, your provider can discuss the next steps in your health care.

Your provider may recommend further testing and monitoring. If abnormal or precancerous cells are detected, your provider can discuss treatment. This involves removing the abnormal cells.

Who should get an HPV test?

Because your body fights HPV like any other virus, it isn’t necessary or recommended to undergo routine HPV tests if you’re under the age of 30. Typically, the immune system will eliminate HPV within two years. In some cases, the body is unable to get rid of HPV. In this circumstance, the virus can go on to cause harm.  

Your provider may recommend HPV testing if you’re over the age of 30. Currently, HPV testing is only available for women. There is no test that can detect HPV in men at this time.

Keep in mind that women who get routine pap smears hardly ever get cervical cancer. To learn more and discuss HPV testing and vaccination, call our Greenwood, IN office to schedule an appointment with Dr. Lori Davidson, or book online.  

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