HPV: An Introduction for Women

What is HPV?

Human Papilloma Virus, or HPV, is a contagious virus which generally lives in the vagina, penis, anus or mouth.  It is estimated that over 50% of adults will test positive for HPV.  HPV spreads through sexual contact or genital to mouth contact.

Women can get an HPV test at home safely and easily.

A negative result is good, however if you test positive, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have an illness.  Many women live with HPV and are perfectly healthy.  However it is recommended that everyone know their HPV status because in some cases it can have negative health effects.

What are the symptoms of HPV?

  1. Some people are asymptomatic
  2. Cold sores around the mouth
  3. Genital sores

What are negative health effects associated with HPV?

  1. Cervical cancer – the presence of some strains of HPV are known to cause cancerous lesions in the cervix.  When women get a PAP smear – cervical cancer one of the things the doctor is checking for.
  2. Oral cancer – similar to cervical cancer, HPV is implicated in some oral cancers.
  3. Infertility – some strains of HPV can result in infertility in women.

What’s the relationship between HPV and the PAP Smear?

A PAP smear is when a doctor swabs the cervix and then the cells are examined under the microscope.  If the cells are abnormal, that is a risk factor for cancer and a doctor may perform more tests or a biopsy to determine next steps.

How can you be proactive about HPV?

There are things you can do to manage your HPV risk.

  1. Be proactive about your health by getting tested for HPV using an easy at-home kit.  If you test positive, make sure you get your PAP smear regularly and don’t skip it.  Keep records of any abnormal PAP smears you have had and make sure any doctor you go to is aware of your history.
  2. For young women under age 26 who were not vaccinated as children, you can get a vaccine that may provide some protection.  Ask your doctor about it.
  3. Use protection during sexual activity.
  4. If you’re a mom, get your kids vaccinated!  Children age 10 are is advised to get an HPV Vaccine.