Discovering you have HPV may catch you off guard but having the facts can bring peace of mind. It’s estimated that 4 out of 5 individuals will contract HPV at some point in their lives. Receiving the Pap and HPV tests may make us feel relieved but receiving a positive HPV result can come as a shock.
If you test positive for HPV please remember that you’re not alone. Currently, 80 million people in the US have HPV. It’s crucial to understand that in most cases, the virus will get eradicated by your immune system before any health issues arise. But if the virus remains in your system, the risk of cancer may increase, especially if your immune system is compromised.
What is HPV?
HPV (human papillomavirus) is a virus with over 100 strains. The majority of HPV strains are not linked to cancer.
The virus is present on the skin and spreads through intimate genital contact. Some strains of HPV can cause genital warts in both men and women. These usually appear several months after exposure. We can treat genital warts with medication or surgery. If left untreated, they may heal spontaneously or increase in size and quantity.
High-risk strains of HPV can lead to numerous types of cancer, affecting the cervix, vulva, and anus. Almost all cases of cervical cancer are the result of the HPV virus. Men can also develop penile, anal, and head and neck cancers from high-risk strains of HPV.
What’s an HPV test?
Today, only women can undergo HPV screening. This is typically performed simultaneously with a Pap test. Women aged 30 and above are advised to get a Pap and HPV test every five years. For women aged 21 to 29, a Pap test is recommended every three years. However, the HPV test is not necessary.
Based on medical history, most women can stop screening at 65. If you test positive for HPV, it means that your doctor may identify one or more high-risk strains of the virus during your cervical Pap test. If the virus persists for a prolonged period, it can cause cellular changes that could lead to various cancers.
HPV Cancer Risk?
Experts emphasize that if you have HPV, the risk of cancer is minor but should get addressed. Ensure that you follow up with your physician regarding the necessary measures and keep things in perspective. If you have HPV, there’s a high probability that it will not be a long-term problem since your immune system will combat the virus. Moreover, most cases of HPV infections will vanish within two years.
Of the millions of HPV cases detected each year, only a small percentage result in cancer, with most of these being cervical cancer. Unfortunately, routine screening is not standard for other HPV-related cancers since they are rare and get discovered when a lump develops.
A classic example is oral cancer. While dentists are beginning to screen for oral cancers, they are unable to test for HPV and may not be able to detect early cancer.
Additional HPV and Cancer Testing?
If you receive a positive HPV test result but your Pap test is normal, your physician will likely advise you to undergo Pap and HPV screening exams again in one year.
Once your HPV test results return negative, you should continue regular Pap and HPV testing so that any potential anomalies will get detected and treated in a timely manner. If you have a positive HPV test and your Pap test is abnormal, your physician will most likely follow up with a colposcopy.
During a colposcopy, your doctor will use a device known as a colposcope to examine your genital region more closely. Your doctor will search for abnormal cells or blood vessels that may require further treatment.
Talking to Your Partner
When diagnosed with HPV, you will undoubtedly get the urge to understand how it happened. However, this might be difficult to determine, as the virus may have been in your system for a long time. In fact, many people never even know they have the virus. As a result, they can transmit it unknowingly.
If you decide to speak with your partner about your diagnosis, remember that 80% of people will have HPV at some point in their lives. It is possible that your partner has already been exposed to the virus, either from you or someone else. If your partner is female, it is important for her to follow screening guidelines and undergo regular Pap and HPV testing to detect any potential problems early.
Protecting Yourself from HPV
To protect yourself from HPV-related cancers, the best course of action is to receive the HPV vaccine. All males and females between the ages of 9 and 26 should get the vaccine. According to research, the most effective time for vaccination is between the ages of 11 and 12. Unvaccinated men and women between the ages of 27 and 45 should consult with their doctor about the benefits of the vaccine. It is also advised to use condoms and practice safe sex to help protect yourself from HPV.
If you do contract HPV, the risk of developing cancer is relatively small but should still be taken seriously. Follow up with your doctor and undergo regular Pap and HPV testing to monitor the situation.
Eating a healthy, well-balanced HPV diet and engaging in healthy activities can also aid in clearing the virus quickly. There is only one supplement for HPV, AHCC, showing promising results in clinical testing. If your doctor detects abnormal cells or blood vessels, he/she may recommend a colposcopy to further investigate the issue.