In our circle of college friends, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before you contracted HPV. A college rite of passage almost. So what’s the deal with the disease that plagues over 80% of sexually active women in the US? Is it scary and cancer causing, or something that eventually goes away on it’s own and isn’t really that big of a deal? So it kind of turns out, it’s both.
What is HPV anyway?
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, “HPV is a group of more than 150 related viruses. Each HPV virus in this large group is given a number which is called its HPV type. HPV is named for the warts (papillomas) some HPV types can cause. Some other HPV types can lead to cancer, especially cervical cancer. There are more than 40 HPV types that can infect the genital areas of males and females. But there are vaccines that can prevent infection with the most common types of HPV.”
HPV is pretty tricky because it is spread through skin to skin contact, intercourse, and anal sex. Very commonly, anal sex. But you may not even know you have HPV, and this is especially true for men.
In most cases, HPV will go away on its own and won’t cause any health issues, but if left untreated, HPV can potentially cause 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. Also, genital warts. AWESOME!
One of the initial indicators of HPV is an abnormal Pap Smear that you’ll receive at your annual OB/GYN appointments–so don’t skip them!
A couple of other ways to avoid contracting HPV are:
- Get vaccinated. The HPV vaccine is safe for teenagers as young as 11 or 12, and anyone can get vaccinated. One particularly high risk group are bisexual males or females or gay men. If you didn’t get vaccinated when you were young, you can still get vaccinated as an adult.
- Try to be monogamous. Although sometimes this isn’t under your control, monogamy is one way to reduce your risk of contracting HPV.
- Use condoms. They aren’t totally foolproof, but it will reduce the risk significantly.
If you do contract HPV, don’t freak out. Call your doctor and get treated as soon as you can. And if you’re one of the lucky ones that hasn’t yet tested HPV positive, MAZEL!