1. What is HPV?
HPV is short for Human Papillomavirus. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). HPV is a different virus than HIV and HSV (herpes). HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives.
2. How can you get HPV?
HPV is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. You can get HPV by having unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus. HPV can be passed even when an infected person has no signs or symptoms. In most cases, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. But when HPV does not go away, it can cause health problems like genital warts and cancer.
3. How do I know if I have HPV?
In most cases, your body's immune system defeats an HPV infection before it creates warts. When warts do appear, they usually appear as a small bump or groups of bumps in the genital area. They can be small or large, raised or flat, or shaped like a cauliflower. A healthcare provider can usually diagnose warts by looking at the genital area.
4. Does HPV cause cancer?
HPV can cause cervical and other cancers including cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. It can also cause cancer in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils.
Cancer often takes years, even decades, to develop after a person gets HPV. The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the types of HPV that can cause cancers.
There is no way to know which people who have HPV will develop cancer or other health problems. People with weak immune systems (including individuals with HIV/AIDS) may be less able to fight off HPV and more likely to develop health problems from it.
5. How can I avoid HPV and the health problems it can cause?
You can do several things to lower your chances of getting HPV.
Get vaccinated. The HPV vaccine is safe and effective. It can protect males and females against diseases (including cancers) caused by HPV when given in the recommended age group. The CDC recommends 11 to 12 year olds get two doses of HPV vaccine to protect against cancers caused by HPV.
Get screened for cervical cancer. Routine screening for women aged 21 to 65 years old can prevent cervical cancer.
If you are sexually active, use condoms every time you have sex. This can lower your chances of getting HPV.
If you have health concerns or questions regarding HPV, be sure you reach out to your physician.