Did you know that HPV (human papillomavirus) is the most common sexually transmitted infection? It’s a virus that is spread through skin-to-skin contact. There are over 100 different types of HPV. Some cause genital warts and some can lead to cervical cancer or other types cancers. I know that sounds scary, but the good news is that the majority of types of HPV cause no health problems.
There are a lot of misconceptions about what HPV is and how you get it. Below are some important facts that everyone should know about HPV.
1.) HPV is extremely common. If fact, it’s so common most people (75%) who are sexually active have been infected with at least one type of HPV.
2.) Infections can be subclinical, meaning the virus lives in the skin without causing symptoms. This is why many people with HPV do not know they have it or that they could spread it. It can take weeks, months or years for genital warts to surface after becoming infected.
3.) Condoms don’t always protect against the virus. Warts can grow on areas of the genitals not covered by a condom. But barriers such as condoms or dental dams can also reduce your risk of getting HPV during oral, anal, or vaginal sex.
4.) There are vaccines that protect against the types of HPV that causes most of the cases of cervical cancer and genital warts (talk to your doctor to learn more!).
5.) The most common type of cancer caused by HPV is in the cervix. It can also cause cancer in the throat, neck, vulva, penis, or anus.
7.) Genital warts caused by HPV often go away without treatment. There are treatments for warts, including medicine or surgery. Talk to your doctor about treatment options if you have questions or concerns.
8.) HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States.
9.) Currently, more than 20 million people are infected with HPV. Each year, more than 6.2 million new infections occur in the U.S.
10.) Most sexually active people have at least one strain of HPV. It’s safe to say that if you have had sex with more than one person OR your partner has had sex with more than one person, you have been exposed to HPV. More than 75% of sexually active people are infected with HPV at some point in their lives; some studies suggest that more than 80 percent of women will have HPV by age 50.
11.) There are more than 100 different strains of HPV; most do not cause cancer. The different strains are divided into high-risk (cancer-causing potential) and low-risk. Two of the high-risk strains (Type 16 and 18) account for 70 percent of all cases of cervical cancer. Two other strains (Type 6 and 11) account for 90 percent of genital warts cases.
12.) More than 99 percent of cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV. Cervical cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths in women worldwide, resulting in 500,000 diagnoses and 240,000 deaths each year. In 2007, an estimated 11,100 cases will be diagnosed in the U.S. and 3,700 women, or 10 per day, will die.
13.) Routine Pap smears can virtually eliminate a woman’s chance of developing invasive cervical cancer. Of women who receive routine Pap smears, 35 percent will have at least one abnormal Pap and 25 percent will have CIN (cervical intraepithelial neoplasia), a precursor to cervical cancer. With treatment, less than one percent of these women will reach the point of developing invasive cervical cancer.
14.) HPV causes 100% of genital warts cases. Genital warts are not cancerous, and consist of soft, white or flesh-colored clusters on the genitals. They can be treated through cryosurgery (which kills the cells by freezing), acid treatment (which kills the cells by burning), or topical cream. Around one million new cases occur each year in the U.S.
15.) The new HPV vaccine Gardasil is now widely available Gardasil is the only HPV vaccine currently available in the United States. It prevents infection by four of the highest-risk strains of HPV, causing 70% of all cervical cancer cases and 90% of all genital warts cases. It is given in three injections over a period of six months and is recommended for women and girls age 9-26, and men and boys aged 11-21. Women who are uninsured or underinsured and between the ages of 19 and 26 are eligible to receive the vaccine for free through the Merck Assistance Program.
16.) Gardasil only prevents future infection; it does not “cure” current infection. Gardasil will not affect any current HPV infection in women. It will only guard against future infection. Women who have been diagnosed with HPV may still receive Gardasil; even if they already have one of the four strains Gardasil prevents, they will still be protected from the remaining three strains.