Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common virus that is spread through sexual contact.
There are many forms of HPV, some of which cause warts, others can cause cervical cancer. The types of HPV that we routinely test for are the “high risk” ones that are known to cause cervical cancer.
Don’t panic! While HPV is known to cause the majority of cervical cancer, most people who have HPV will not develop cervical cancer. In fact, most people will clear HPV on their own without intervention.
Discovering that someone has HPV can be very valuable information for us, as it guides us to increase our surveillance and watch your cervix a bit closer than we normally would.
What is the difference between a “Pap Smear” and “HPV testing”
A Pap smear is a test used to detect changes in the cells of the cervix that may be an early sign of cervical cancer. It is done by gathering a sample of cells from the cervix and examining them under a microscope. An HPV test is a test used to detect the human papillomavirus (HPV). It is done by collecting a sample of cells from the cervix and testing them for the presence of the virus. The HPV test is often used in conjunction with a Pap smear. Just because you have HPV doesn’t mean that your Pap will be abnormal.
How did I get HPV?
HPV is primarily spread through skin-to-skin contact during unprotected sexual intercourse. This includes vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Even if a condom is used, the virus can still be spread if there is direct contact between genital areas of both partners. Sharing sex toys, especially if not washed properly or covered with a condom, can spread HPV as well. You are more likely to get HPV if you have multiple sex partners, do not use condoms regularly, or have a weakened immune system.
I was vaccinated for HPV, how could I have it now?
There are over 100 types of HPV and the current HPV vaccines prevent up to 9 types. Therefore, you were likely exposed to a form of HPV that you were not vaccinated against. Alternatively, you may have been exposed to HPV prior to getting vaccinated.
I haven’t had the HPV vaccine, should I still get one even though I have HPV?
The current guidelines recommend the HPV vaccine for anyone 11-26 years old, even if you have already been exposed to HPV. Please note that the vaccine is not going to cure the HPV that you already have been exposed to, rather it will help prevent you getting other types of HPV if you are exposed in the future.
Recently, the FDA expanded approval for the HPV vaccine for 27–45-year-olds. The decision to vaccinate after 26 years old is one that you should discuss with your provider.
My provider recommended that I have a Colposcopy, what is that?
Colposcopy is usually performed to follow up on an abnormal Pap smear or positive HPV test, to look for pre- cancerous changes to the cervix. We use a special type of binoculars to look at the cervix under magnification. Usually, vinegar is applied to give us a clearer view. In some cases, a sample of tissue (a biopsy) is sent to the lab. You may feel some discomfort during the colposcopy, but the procedure is not very painful.
I have never tested positive for HPV before and I haven’t had a new partner in years, was my partner unfaithful?
It is possible that you were recently exposed, however HPV can lay dormant in the body for years and can reactivate at any time. Even if you have not had a new partner, you could have been exposed to HPV in the past and not have had any symptoms. This means that it could have been in your body without you knowing until now.
My partner and I were previously tested for “everything” and it all came out negative, how could I have HPV now?
HPV is not tested for on routine STI screening, and there is no screening test for HPV in males.
Other than increasing surveillance of my cervix, is there anything else I should be doing?
It is important to focus on your physical and mental well-being at this time. Eating well, exercising, and getting good sleep are all good ideas to help boost your immune system. We also recommend that you engage in safe sex and use condoms regularly.
If you have further questions, we recommend scheduling a follow up appointment in the office or on Telehealth.
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