Myths and Facts About HPV

Let’s kick this off with one fact everyone should know about HPV — it’s very common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly 80 million Americans are infected with human papillomavirus — most in their teens or early 20s. Despite its prevalence, there’s still much that’s misunderstood about HPV, and our goal here is to separate fact from fiction.

At Marsha K. Howerton, MD, our team offers comprehensive services to women in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to guide you through every stage of your reproductive lives. And one of the most important services we provide is education, which can help you identify problems early on so that you can get the treatment you need.

With this in mind, here’s what you need to know about HPV.

Myth: HPV is spread only through intercourse

While a majority of cases of HPV are, in fact, spread through vaginal intercourse, the virus can be contracted through any skin-to-skin contact. What this means is that condoms work up to a point, but they don’t protect all of the skin surrounding your genitalia. It’s important to note that oral sex and anal sex can also cause the spread of the disease.

Fact: HPV is common, and often undiagnosed

As we mentioned above, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease, affecting approximately 80% of the sexually active population. In 80-90% of cases, the infection is resolved on its own and there are no outward symptoms. This means that a fair amount of sexually active people have HPV without knowing it.

Myth: There’s only one type of HPV

There are more than 200 different types of HPV, only 40 of which affect your sexual health. And of these 40, only a few strains can lead to more serious problems like genital warts or cancer. 

Fact: HPV leads to genital warts

In a relatively small percentage of HPV infections, the virus can lead to outward symptoms — namely genital warts. At any given time in the United States, 1 in 100 sexually active adults has genital warts, which we can clear up quickly through early intervention. The two types of HPV that cause genital warts, however, do not lead to cancer.

Myth and Fact: HPV causes cancer

Cervical cancer does begin as an HPV infection, but only a dozen or so strains of the virus can lead to abnormal cell changes on your cervix that could turn cancerous. This is why a regular Pap test with us is important so we can detect these changes, especially if you’re over age 30.

Outside of cervical cancer, these types of HPV are also tied to other cancers, such as in the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and throat.

Myth: HPV can’t be prevented

In 2006, the FDA approved a vaccine called Gardasil®, which protects women against cervical, vulvar, and vaginal cancers as well as genital warts. The vaccine should be administered between the ages of 9 and 11, but you can get the vaccine up to age 26.

If you have questions about HPV, please don’t hesitate to contact us at (918) 216-0749 or use our convenient online scheduling tool to request an appointment.

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