What is HPV?
Human papillomavirus is a very common infection that can be passed from person to person. Some types of HPV are spread through sexual contact. Studies suggest that at least 3 out of every 4 people will get and HPV infection during their lifetime. Sexually transmitted HPV can spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
HPV and Cancer Risk
Some types of HPV are linked to cancer in both women and men. Certain types are known to be a major cause of cancer of the cervix. HPV also may be linked to cancer of the anus, vulva, vagina, and penis.
Although certain types of HPV can cause cancer of the cervix, very few women with HPV develop this type of cancer. Cancer of the cervix can be prevented with early detection and treatment. Talk with your doctor if you think you are at risk.
Routine Pap tests help diagnose an HPV infection. If a Pap test shows certain abnormal cells, your doctor may suggest and HPV test.
An HPV test checks for the types of HPV that may lead to cancer. For both a Pap test and HPV test, a swab (like a big Q-Tip) is used to collect a sample of cells. These cells are then sent to a lab to be checked more closely.
If you are older than 30 years of age your doctor may suggest you be screened for both a Pap test and an HPV test. Getting both tests at the same time makes it more likely that any abnormal cells changes will be found. Routine HPV testing in women younger than 30 years of age because HPV is very common in this age group and cervical cancer is rare. In these women, having an HPV test with a Pap might lead to unnecessary treatment.
Currently, there is no cure for HPV, although a vaccine is available. You can decrease your risk of infection by avoiding contact with the virus. To lower the chance of infection:
* Limit your number of sexual partners. The more partners you have the greater your risk of infection.
* Use condoms to reduce the risk of infection when you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Condoms also help prevent against other STDs.
Condoms cannot fully protect you against HPV infection. HPV can be passed from person to person by touching infected areas not covered by a condom. These areas may include skin in the genital or anal areas. If you have HPV, take steps to protect your health and the health of your partner.
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