Myths and Facts You Should Know About HPV and HPV Testing

Despite its rank as the most common sexually transmitted disease, misinformation surrounding human papillomavirus (HPV) continues to cause confusion and misperceptions. It affects an estimated 79 million Americans, yet many people aren’t sure what to believe when it comes to separating fact from fiction.

Gynecologist and women’s health specialist Dr. Lori Davidson, is dedicated to helping women stay as healthy as possible through all stages of life. Understanding common STDs is a proactive step in caring for your sexual health. We’ve put together some information to dispel some myths and provide some facts about HPV to get you off on the right track.

Myth: HPV refers to one virus

When you hear the term human papillomavirus, it gives the impression that it refers to a single virus, when in fact this is not the case. 

Fact: HPV refers to a family of viruses

There are more than 100 types of HPV. Luckily, only a few types can cause health problems. HPV lives inside epithelial cells. These are the tissues that make up your skin.

Myth: You can tell when someone has HPV

This is a long-standing myth, primarily because HPV is associated with genital warts, which are often visible on the external genitals. But there’s no truth to the idea that you can tell if someone is infected with HPV.

Fact: HPV doesn’t always cause symptoms

HPV is easily spread through sexual contact and the person may not have any noticeable signs or symptoms. In fact, HPV is most commonly spread by people who are unaware that they have it.

Myth: HPV doesn’t cause serious health issues

HPV is most well known for causing genital warts. These are skin lesions that are usually harmless and don’t pose any major threat to your health. However, some types of HPV can cause health problems. 

Fact: HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer

This doesn’t mean that you will develop cervical cancer if you have HPV. Two types of HPV can cause abnormal changes to cervical cells and go on to cause cancer. If you have cervical cancer, getting regular pap tests will help catch abnormal cervical cell changes before problems arise.

Myth: Only women are at risk for HPV-related cancer

Because HPV causes most cases of cervical cancer, it’s easy to assume that only women are at risk for HPV related cancers. You should know that HPV can cause certain cancers in both sexes.

Fact: HPV-related cancers affect men and women

HPV can cause throat and mouth cancer. In fact, it is thought that HPV causes 70% of oropharyngeal cancers. When scientists look at these types of cancers under a microscope, they often have HPV cells. Oropharyngeal cancers can affect the tongue, tonsils, and back of the throat.

Myth: If you become infected with HPV you have it for life

Certain viruses, such as herpes simplex 2, stick around and can cause recurrent symptoms. Many people mistakenly believe that HPV doesn’t go away either. The truth may surprise you.

Fact: HPV often goes away on its own

The body treats HPV like any other virus and tries to get rid of it. If you have HPV, it may go away on its own. In fact, most cases of HPV cause no symptoms and resolve spontaneously. If your body is unable to eliminate it, it can hang around and cause genital warts or increase the risk of cervical cancer.

Myth: Condoms protect against HPV

Condoms are effective at preventing STDs spread through contact with semen and vaginal fluid. When we think of STDs, it’s common to think that condoms will provide protection. However, condoms aren’t foolproof and can’t protect against all STDs.

Fact: Condoms don’t protect against HPV

HPV is most commonly spread through vaginal and anal intercourse. However, because HPV lives in skin cells and condoms only cover a portion of the genitals, they don’t provide 100% protection. Wearing a condom properly and consistently lowers the risk, but HPV can infect uncovered areas.   

We’ve covered a few facts and myths about HPV. For more information about HPV screening, vaccination, and treatment for HPV-related health issues, visit Dr. Davidson at her Greenwood, Indiana, office by calling 317-893-3131 to schedule an appointment.

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