Finding out you have HPV can be disturbing. You may be concerned that your partner has been unfaithful. Your partner may think that you were. It’s really important to make sure you both have the facts about HPV:
Having an open conversation with your partner about HPV is important, so you are both informed and can both make safe decisions about your health.
There are many types of HPV. The types that can lead to cervical cancer are called high risk types. Other types (low risk) may cause genital warts, but not cervical cancer. High risk HPV is a problem only when it doesn’t go away. If it stays in your body for a long time, it can lead to cervical cancer.
No, HPV infection doesn’t cause symptoms so most people don’t know they have it. A person can have HPV for a very long time before it can be found.
HPV is spread from one person to another by skin-to-skin contact to the genital area. HPV can be spread if there is no intercourse. HPV can be spread by vaginal, anal and possibly oral sex.
Two things can reduce your risk for getting HPV.
What screening tests are done for cervical cancer? There are two main kinds of screening tests:
The Pap test is used to look for abnormal cervical cells. Pap tests are often done during the pelvic exam portion of the well-woman visit. During a Pap test, your health care provider will collect a sample of cervical cells for analysis by a laboratory. About 90% of Pap tests results are normal. If the test result are abnormal, you may need additional testing. In most cases, an abnormal Pap result does not mean that a woman has cancer.
The HPV test is a very accurate way to tell if high-risk HPV is present in the woman’s cervix. This test can use the same sample of cells taken for the Pap test or a separate sample taken right after the Pap. A positive test result means a woman has a high-risk HPV. She should be followed closely to make sure the infection goes away and that she does not develop abnormal cells. A positive HPV test result does not mean that a woman has cancer. Also, a positive HPV test result is not a sign that you or your partner had sex outside the relationship. A person can have HPV for a long time before its found.
The HPV test is used in two ways: To see if a woman with borderline Pap test results (one that shows unusual cells but not dysplasia) needs additional testing. To screen for cervical cancer, along with the Pap test, in women aged 30 or older who have HPV are more likely to have had it a long time. That means they have a greater risk of developing cervical cancer. Women in their 20s don’t need an HPV test in addition to the Pap test. HPV infection is very common in this age group and usually goes away.
Experts recommend that a woman’s first Pap test be done by age 21 or three years after she becomes sexually active with vaginal intercourse-whichever is first. Women under age 30 should speak to their health care provider about how often to have a Pap test. Women age 30 or older can have an HPV test along with the Pap test. Women who have a normal Pap test result and a negative HPV test result should have both test repeated in three years. Women age 70 or older should discuss with their health care provider whether or not to continue cervical cancer screening. Women who have had a total hysterectomy (surgery to remove the uterus and cervix) that was not performed to treat cancer or dysplasia don’t need to be screened.
All women should have an annual visit with a reproductive health care provider to stay healthy. This “well-woman” visit is a chance to talk to your health care provider about concerns such as problems with your menstrual cycle, birth control, sexuality, infertility, menopause, and sensitive topics such as depression or a harmful relationship. The well woman visit is different for each woman, because every woman’s needs are different. During the well-woman visit, your health care provider can answer your questions and address any concerns you have, performs a breast exam and checks for common diseases such as high blood pressure. The examiner might perform a pelvic exam, which may also include cervical cancer screening. Your health care provider can tell you how often you should be screened.
The cervix is the lower part of your uterus (womb). Cancer of the cervix is a serious but preventable disease. Screening tests can find changes in cervical cells before cancer develops. Changes in cervical cells are called dysplasia. Removing cells that have dysplasia can prevent cervical cancer. If left untreated, dysplasia can lead to cervical cancer. Screening tests can help prevent cervical cancer. Cervical cancer can be cured if its found at an early stage.
Cervical cancer is caused by a virus called human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV is not the same as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or herpes simplex virus (HSV). Infection with HPV is very common among adults in the U.S. In fact most people will have HPV at some point in their lives. Usually your body’s immune system fights off the infection, and HPV goes away on its own.