It can be hard to deal with the reputation that surrounds HPV and other gynecological cancers and get down to facts. With so much information-- and misinformation-- at our fingertips, getting a solid understanding of what HPV is and how it impacts the people who have it can feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
Many people are ill-informed about what living with HPV looks like; a lot of them don't know about risk factors or prevention methods like the HPV vaccine. Misinformation about who can get HPV based on their age, sex, number of sexual partners, or relationship status is often stated as fact. The general public's understanding of what HPV screenings are and what their results mean is not the best; most women think that they can pass on a pap smear after an HPV vaccine when, really, they should actually be getting additional HPV screenings.
Addressing the myths and rumors that exist around something that often goes unspoken can be tough; but we're here to make it happen.
Five HPV Myths & the Truth About Them
1. Only Women Get HPV
This is absolutely untrue.
As shocking as it may be to the average person, the CDC tells us that majority of sexually active adults will experience at least one HPV infection at some time in their lives. Regardless of your sex-- or other factors like your numbers of sexual partners-- HPV is a real possibility. One reason that it's so common is how easy it is to spread. HPV can be passed on through vaginal, anal, and oral sex; that means that everybody is at risk.
With so many types of HPV in existence, it's far from crazy to say that-- unfortunately-- there are plenty of issues to go around for everybody regardless of the genitalia they have. Both genders can experience genital warts due to HPV and even develop cancer as a result of it.
2. Having HPV Means a Guarantee You'll Get Cervical Cancer
While HPV has been shown to cause cancer in some cases, there is absolutely no guarantee that you'll contract any type of cancer due to an HPV diagnosis. In a majority of cases, HPV is relatively harmless and causes few or no symptoms; in fact, the HPV virus often leaves the human body in as little as one to two years.
With over 200 related viruses falling under the HPV umbrella, it's important to understand that there are low and high-risk HPVs. A lot of HPVs are seen as low-risk and do not open the door to additional chances for the development of cancer; a small handful are responsible for many cervical cancer cases, but are also less common. It's critical to remember that virtually all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV, but not all HPV causes cervical cancer.
If left untreated for long periods of time, it's true that HPV can lead to cancer of any type-- cervical cancer included. As of now, there is no way to determine which individuals impacted by HPV will also develop cancer.
3. If You Test Negative for HPV, You Can't Spread it
The HPV virus can lay hidden and dormant for years after you get it before symptoms start to appear-- and sometimes they never do! It's actually deceptively simple to pass on HPV to sexual partners without even knowing that you've been infected yourself.
This is one reason why medical professionals say not to panic if one individual in a relationship turns up with HPV out of the blue; chances are, it wasn't really out of the blue at all. It's common for spouses and partners to panic and suspect cheating in these cases. The fact of the matter is, because the virus can lay undetected in the human body for a lifetime without symptoms, an HPV diagnosis does not guarantee illicit sexual encounters at all.
The United States Preventative Services Task Force recommends that women ages 30 to 64 be tested for HPV every five years on top of their normal pap smear schedule. This allows for the screening to catch any new occurrences of the virus that may have been undetectable previously.
4. You Can't Get HPV After Menopause
It's true that many women diagnosed with HPV tend to be under thirty; but that doesn't mean that you're home-free after menopause hits. Research has indicated that women around the age of fifty can and do experience "reactivations" of previous HPV infections.
Research has informed us that infections acquired years ago can and do crop up in older women. Due to HPV's link to cancer, older women in particular should actually pay more attention to HPV screenings and watching for symptoms than some of their younger counterparts.
5. You Can Skip Your Pap Test if You Got the HPV Vaccine
While it's excellent to stay up to date on your HPV vaccines, getting on top of them doesn't give you a free pass to skip your pap test (or even those additional HPV-centric screenings mentioned above). There are two HPV vaccines available (Gardasil and Cervarix) and both of them only protect against the two highest-risk HPV strains.
The HPV vaccine is an excellent and essential preventative measure in the long game of keeping HPV away-- but it's not everything. Those who are already infected won't be helped by these vaccines; and, as you read above, many people are infected without even knowing or testing positive for HPV.
It can feel like a struggle to admit your concerns surrounding HPV to your doctor; and it's no secret that many women can feel nervous as they head in for a pap smear or a screening. The fact of the matter is that some discomfort and awkwardness are still better than the potential for risks to your health and complications further down the line. Staying on top of your reproductive health and being proactive in your HPV prevention plan can make the difference between good health and a host of issues.
Those in the Portland-Vancouver area in need of cervical cancer screenings and services have a wealth of options at their disposal. Two excellent places to start or to schedule a cervical cancer screening are: