5 Things Your Doctor Wants You To Know About HPV
With 79 million people in the United States alone infected, and 14 million becoming newly infected every year, HPV is the most common STI. In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control, "HPV is so common that nearly all men and women get it at some point in their lives." So there you go; it's almost inescapable.
But when it comes to HPV, you don't need to have intercourse to contract it and condoms don't protect you 100 percent either. With more than 100 strains of HPV out there, 40 of them can infect the genital area.
While there's some sort of solace in knowing, if you contract HPV, you're absolutely, positively not alone, some strains of HPV can cause cancer in both men and women. According to the National Cancer Institute, HPV types 16 and 18 are responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancers and type 16 is responsible for 70 percent of oral cancers and 95 percent of anal cancers. But because of the stigma surrounding STIs, unfortunately there's so many misconceptions and so much most people don't know about HPV, as common as it is.
Here are the five top things that your doctor really wants you know, above all else, about HPV.
1. Almost Every Sexually Active Person Is Likely To Get HPV
"HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States," Dr. Jennifer Caudle, family physician and associate professor at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, tells Bustle. "The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology suspects that almost everyone who is sexually active will get the infection at some point."
2. Having HPV Doesn't Mean You'll Necessarily Get Cancer
"HPV doesn’t only cause cancer," says Dr. Caudle, "It can cause genitalia warts as well. But having HPV doesn’t definitely mean you will get either."
The majority of HPV strains can remain in your body and never cause you any trouble. Even if you do contract type 16 or type 18, it's not a guarantee that you'll get genital warts and/or cancer.
3. HPV Usually Doesn't Have Symptoms
"Those with HPV may not know they have it," says Dr. Caudle, "because it often has no symptoms."
Unless you contract the strain that results in genital warts, there's no way to know if you have HPV. The only way you can find out is if you go to the doctor, get a pap smear, and your results come back abnormal. While abnormal results doesn't definitely mean HPV, your doctor will have to do a colposcopy to see what's going on in there.
4. HPV Can Be Transmitted Without Intercourse
"HPV can be transmitted through sex, but also through close skin-to-skin contact that occurs during sex," says Dr. Caudle.
Like the majority of STIs, HPV isn't necessarily going to be avoided just because you use a condom. Condoms are great and can reduce your chances of contracting HPV, but they're not foolproof — especially since you don't need to have intercourse to contract it.
5. There Are 3 HPV Vaccines
"There is a vaccine to help prevent diseases caused by HPV," says Dr. Caudle. "This is really important, so talk to your doctor about this!"
There are currently three HPV vaccines, all of which are FDA-approved: Cervarix, Gardasil, and Gardasil-9. As for which vaccine is best for you, it depends on your age. However, at the moment, none of the vaccines have been proven effective on people over 26.
Although an HPV diagnosis might seem scary, it's likely way more common — and unfairly stigmatized — than you realize. That being said, it's always important to stay on top of your sexual health, and that means educating yourself, protecting yourself, and communicating with your partners.