It seems like everywhere you look you find a commercial talking about the HPV vaccine. Controversial at best, this vaccine administered to teenagers has been linked to a reduced incidence of certain types of cancer later in life. Yet few people know exactly what HPV is, how it is transmitted and why it is important to be tested for it as an adult. That is why the board-certified gynecologists at Abortion Care regularly offer HPV testing as a part of their STD testing, as well as their well-woman and pap smear exams.
What is HPV?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States, affecting more than 79 million Americans in their late teens and early 20's. In most cases, people do not know they're infected with HPV and it goes away on its own without any long-term effects. However, certain types of HPV can cause genital warts, cervical cancer and cancers of the vulva, anus, penis, or vagina. HPV can also cause oral-pharyngeal cancer in the base of your tongue and the back of your throat. In fact, every year more than 19,000 women and 12,000 men are diagnosed with cancers caused by HPV.
How is HPV transmitted?
It is possible to get HPV from having vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who is infected with HPV. The challenge is that HPV can be spread even if an infected person doesn't have any symptoms. In fact, it is possible to get HPV if you are sexually active at all, even if you have only had sex with one person. It may take years to show signs or symptoms of HPV, making it had to know when you were infected.
How can I prevent HPV?
There are three ways to prevent the spread of HPV.
1. Get vaccinated. Not only does the HPV vaccine prevent the spread of the disease, but it can also protect against diseases that are associated with the virus. The CDC recommends 11- to 12-year-olds get two doses of the HPV vaccine. These vaccines can also be administered up until a man is 21 and a woman is 26 and still be effective at preventing certain types of cancers.
2. Use latex condoms correctly, every time you engage in sexual contact. Even though HPV can affect areas that are not protected by a condom, this can greatly lower your risk of getting or transmitting the virus.
3. Have regular screenings for cervical cancer and HPV testing.
What is an HPV test?
HPV tests are now often included with a regular pap smear exam for women over 30. These tests screen for cervical cancer, as well as HPV in something called co-testing. A second swab is taken during a pelvic exam to check for the presence of HPV. The American Cancer Society recommends that co-testing occur every five years in women who have never had an abnormal pap smear and either every three years or every year in women who have. However, women under the age of 30 are not generally screened this way. It is recommended that women between the ages of 21 and 29 have a pap smear every three years. Since HPV is so common in this population of women, they should only have an HPV test if their doctor finds abnormal cells as a part of their exam or if they develop genital warts.
Early detection can help prevent the spread of HPV. Schedule your cervical cancer screening and HPV test today at Abortion Care by calling 732-408-6182.