HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the U.S., with nearly 80 million people currently infected. If you’re sexually active, these statistics alone should make you want to get tested for the human papillomavirus (HPV). Here in Somerset, New Jersey, the experienced board-certified team of gynecologists at Abortion Care explains why being tested for HPV is always a good idea.
HPV 101: Understanding what it is
HPV is a sexually transmitted infection caused by a virus. You contract and spread the virus through vaginal, anal, and oral sex. HPV can be passed between sexual partners even if the infected person has no symptoms or outward signs of the disease.
Most of the time, HPV is harmless and goes away without causing health problems. If the infection doesn’t go away, it causes genital warts. Some types of HPV can even lead to certain types of cancers, including cervical and throat cancer.
You may have HPV without symptoms.
Perhaps the biggest reason to get tested for HPV is because even if you don’t think you have it, you could test positive for the virus and unknowingly spread it to others during sexual contact. In many instances, even if you’re infected with one of 40 different types of genital HPV, you feel completely fine and are symptom-free.
It’s important to find out if you have HPV, so you can be treated and avoid transmitting the disease to others. An HPV test can also help you avoid future health complications.
People in their late teens and early 20s are at highest risk.
Teens and college students are at higher risk for HPV as a result of their sexual behavior and immune system vulnerability. If you have sex and don’t always use a latex condom — which greatly reduces the spread of HPV — then within a couple years of becoming sexually active, you have a 50-80% chance of contracting the infection.
Even if you don’t have sexual intercourse, it’s possible to get HPV from someone who has it during skin-to-skin contact. HPV can also spread through genital-to-genital contact and oral sex.
Since nearly everyone who is sexually active will get HPV at some point in life, you’re at risk even if you’ve only had sex with one other person. The more sexual partners you have over the years, the more likely you are to get a genital HPV infection. And having sex with someone who’s had multiple partners increases your risk, as well.
An HPV test detects high-risk types of the human papillomavirus.
Since most forms of HPV go away on their own and aren’t considered high-risk, an HPV test can determine if you are carrying one or more of the high-risk types of the virus. This includes types 16 and 18 — the ones that cause most cases of cervical cancer. At Abortion Care, an HPV test can be part of your annual exam, just like a Pap test.
Like a Pap test, an HPV test takes just a few minutes while your doctor collects a small sample of cells from your cervix to be analyzed. If you have a weak immune system, unprotected sex, or you’ve had abnormal Pap test results in the past, you may need to get tested for HPV more frequently.
Otherwise, your doctor recommends an HPV test if:
- You’re over 25 years old
- You’re 30-65 and you get an HPV test along with a Pap test
- You had a Pap test with unclear results
- Your last Pap test indicated abnormal cells
If your HPV test comes back positive for any high-risk types of the virus, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer. It just means you may need HPV testing more often to prevent a serious health condition in the future.
Because your overall health and sexual health should be of utmost concern, it’s always a good idea to get tested for HPV. To learn more about HPV testing and the HPV vaccine, call our compassionate, caring team to schedule a complete exam today.