In a shocking, recently reported statistic, 45% of U.S. citizens, aged 18-59, are infected with genital HPV, or human papillomavirus. Nearly all individuals who are sexually active will get infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV) at some time in their life. Some HPV types are considered lower risk and cause genital warts. Other types are higher risk, causing cancer in different areas of the body including the cervix and vagina, penis, and anus and oropharynx (base of the tongue and tonsils). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the high-risk genital HPV occurrence was nearly 23% in the total population, with 1 in 4 men with the disease and 1 in five women.
The virus is spread via skin to skin contact. So HPV can spread from one person to another person through oral, vaginal, or anal sex, or through close touching during sexual activity.
HPV infection isn’t cancer but can cause changes in your body that lead to cancer. Cancer develops very slowly and may not be diagnosed until years after a person becomes infected with HPV. Researchers and health care practitioners don’t know who will have only a short-lived HPV infection, and who will develop HPV-caused cancer.
You can do several things to decrease your chances of getting HPV.
Get vaccinated. The HPV vaccine can protect against diseases and cancers caused by HPV when given at the appropriate time. CDC recommends pre-teenagers get two doses of HPV vaccine to protect them against the symptoms of the virus, including cancer.
Get screened for cervical cancer.
If you are sexually active, use latex condoms. Furthermore, to prevent infection, it’s best to be in a relationship where you have sex only with someone who only has sex with you, as in a monogamous relationship.
No test exists yet to find out whether or not a person has HPV in the genitals, mouth, or throat. There are screenings for HPV and cervical cancer, but these tests are recommended for screening only in women aged 30 years and older. They are not recommended to screen men, adolescents, or women under the age of 30 years.
Many people infected with HPV never develop symptoms or health problems from it (thought they can still spread the disease). Women may find out they have HPV when they have an abnormal Pap test result, which screens for cervical cancer. Some people experience genital warts before they realize they have HPV. Others may only find out they have HPV only once they’ve developed more worrisome problems, such as cancers.
If you have HPV and are pregnant, you can develop genital warts or unusual cell growth on your cervix. These abnormal cell developments can be found with cervical cancer screening. All women should make sure they receive routine cervical cancer screening even when they are pregnant.