The human papillomavirus (HPV) affects about 79 million Americans. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). HPV is complex and is confusing for most despite advances in what we know about the virus, available treatments, and vaccines. Misinformation and myths are dangerous for any illness and often prevent individuals from seeking treatment. HPV myths continue to plague this condition and hide the truth that could save your life.
Common Myths and the Truths they Hide
Myth: Always using a condom protects me from HPV.
Fact: HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact even when you’re not having intercourse. While a condom significantly reduces the risk of getting HPV, it doesn’t completely protect you from it.
Myth: Only women can get HPV.
Fact: Any person with close skin-to-skin contact with someone infected with HPV can get the infection. In fact, most sexually active individuals have had at least one HPV infection at some point in their lives.
Myth: If someone develops HPV in a monogamous relationship, it means one of them cheated.
Fact: The virus can remain in the body without an individual showing any signs for weeks, years, even a lifetime. When warts, lesions, or other abnormalities do manifest, it can be after laying dormant for months or years.
Myth: All HPV strains cause cancer.
Fact: More than 150 related viruses are included under the human papillomavirus umbrella. Some cause skin warts, while others cause genital warts. Some are called high-risk because they can cause changes in cells that can lead to cancer of the cervix, vagina, vulva, anus, penis, mouth, and throat. Types 16 and 18, in particular, increase the risk of cervical cancer and genital cancers in men and women. Type 16 also causes most cases of oropharyngeal cancer.
Myth: There are HPV available screenings for both men and women.
Fact: Testing is available for women that can detect HPV in cervical cells or for cancerous or precancerous changes in cervical cells through a pap smear. While there’s no FDA-approved test to detect HPV in men, some providers urge anal pap smears for males with an increased risk for anal cancer.
Are You HPV Positive?
Advances in medicine have made the HPV vaccine available to young women and men aged nine to 26. The vaccine prevents strains of cervical cancer in women and helps protect against 90% of genital warts in men. Not only does it prevent someone from becoming infected with HPV, but it also prevents them from transmitting it to others.
If you are a female with HPV, you can help advance options for this condition as a research volunteer. HPV studies are currently enrolling here at Women’s Health Care Research. Call us to learn more at (858) 505-8672 or visit our website today!