Human papillomavirus (HPV), is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD), but also one of the least understood. HPV is currently the center of medical research right now because it is very common and is responsible for cervical cancer. Some experts have thrown more light on the disease.
Condoms cannot give you full protection from HPV
Condoms may reduce your risk of HPV infection to an extent, but they can’t completely eliminate it. Barbara Goff, MD, the director of gynecological oncology at the University of Washington in Seattle says, “The virus can live in the scrotum and the hair-bearing areas of the genitals.” So foreplay that involves skin-to-skin genital contact can transmit the virus. Oral sex and anal sex can equally transmit the infection.
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Dr. Goff advises young people to get vaccinated for HPV before engaging in sexual activities.
Smoking increases your risk of HPV-related cancer
HPV can grow rapidly in an immune system that has been weakened by smoking. You have to quit smoking if you want to prevent a dormant HPV infection from turning into a precancerous or cancerous growth.
HPV Vaccine doesn’t treat HPV, it only prevents
The HPV vaccine is only preventive but not curative. The vaccine doesn’t fight the virus in people who’ve already picked it. That’s partly why it’s approved only for people in their twenties and younger. This is because people who are older may already been exposed to the HPV strains the vaccine protects against. However, researchers are currently studying the value of vaccinating women older than 26.
The HPV vaccine isn’t just for girls
The HPV vaccine does not only protect women against cervical cancers, but it also provides direct health benefits for men, including prevention of genital warts. Most researchers believe that vaccination of boys will ultimately lead to a reduction in the rates of head cancer, neck cancer, and other cancers.
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The HPV vaccine currently given in the United States, Gardasil 9, approved by the FDA for use in females ages 9 to 26 and males ages 9 to 21.
The general recommendation is for all girls and boys to be vaccinated at age 11 or 12, but the vaccine can be given as early as age 9, as well as in later years if a person did not receive the vaccine at the recommended age.
You still need Pap smears even after HPV vaccine
Getting HPV vaccine doesn’t totally protect against all possible high-risk types of HPV, nor does it protect against any strains a person was exposed to before vaccination. Pap smears are still suggested for women who have had the HPV vaccine.
Your current partner may not be responsible if you’re infected
Patients who discovered they have HPV would naturally assume that their current sexual partner gave it to them, this isn’t always the case. William Robinson, MD, a professor of gynecologic oncology at Tulane University in New Orleans say; “The women who develop cervical cancer at age 40 probably got infected shortly after having sex with their first sexual partner.”
That’s because HPV can stay dormant for years before it starts causing the cell damage that can lead to cancer. Cancers caused by HPV can take years to develop.
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HPV may resolve on its own, but there’s no treatment for the virus. Women who have abnormal Pap smear results may be advised to wait and be retested in three to six months, have additional tests to further examine any anomaly, or undergo treatment to remove the abnormal cells.
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