What Every Woman Should Know About HPV

Jun 07, 2023
What Every Woman Should Know About HPV
Human papillomavirus (HPV) rarely causes symptoms, but learning about the infection helps you protect yourself. Read our comprehensive guide on what to know about HPV and how to lower your risk.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the number one sexually transmitted disease (STD) and can spread through all types of sex. That includes vaginal, oral, and anal sex. Though HPV spreads rapidly and is common, many people don’t realize they have it because it doesn’t cause symptoms. Fortunately, your gynecologist can detect it during a Pap smear at your next annual women’s health exam.
HPV is far more common than many people realize: In fact, around 80% of women will be affected in their lifetimes. But only approximately 50% of those infections involve strains of the virus that can cause cancer. 

As a concierge member of Montclair Concierge Medicine in Verona, New Jersey, you have access to a lifetime of exclusive women’s health services to stay healthy. Kelly DiStefano, MD, swabs your cervix during Pap smears to check for signs of an HPV infection and can walk you through the next steps if she detects it. 

Being aware of HPV and its potential long-term impact on your health can help you be more mindful about sexual safety, HPV prevention, and early detection. 

What is HPV?

HPV isn’t just a singular viral infection. There are over 100 different types of HPV, and roughly 40 of them are spread primarily through sexual contact. Some of these strains cause cancer, which is why checking for HPV during women’s health visits is essential.

If Dr. DiStefano diagnoses you with HPV, there’s no need to feel ashamed. You can rest assured knowing it’s rare for HPV to develop into cancer, and that the infection is extremely common among sexually active people.

The possible complications of HPV

The majority of women who get HPV don’t experience any complications, but you should be aware of the possibilities regardless. Complications can arise no matter which part of your body gets an HPV infection and can include:

  • Cervical cancer
  • Vulvar cancer
  • Vaginal cancer
  • Oropharyngeal cancers (cancers of the throat, tongue, or tonsils)
  • Genital warts
  • Warts in your respiratory tract (extremely rare)

An active HPV infection won’t reduce your chances of getting pregnant, but it can cause some potential complications for an existing pregnancy. Genital warts from HPV can block your birth canal and cause you to need a Cesarean section (C-section). It's also possible (though rare) to pass the infection to your baby. 

The hormone changes during pregnancy can also cause genital warts to grow and multiply, which exacerbates bleeding and discomfort. 

HPV often resolves on its own

While HPV doesn’t have a cure, around 90% of HPV cases in women resolve within about two years. If you’re in the minority of women who experience complications from HPV, like genital warts or cervical cell changes, Dr. DiStefano can help you review your treatment options. 

A vaccine is available to lower your risk

Modern vaccines have nearly eradicated many viral illnesses that were once highly prevalent among the population. While the HPV vaccine hasn’t eradicated HPV infections entirely, getting the vaccine significantly reduces your risk of genital warts, pelvic cancers, and other complications of certain HPV strains. 

The HPV vaccine isn’t approved for pregnant or breastfeeding women, but it’s safe for non-pregnant girls and women between ages 9 and 45. Most experts recommend getting children vaccinated at age 11 or 12 before they become sexually active. 

Keep in mind, not all HPV strains are the same and that it’s still possible to acquire infections of certain strains even if you’re vaccinated. 

Other preventive steps

To further reduce your likelihood of getting HPV, Dr. DiStefano encourages you to:

  • Use condoms during sex
  • Get tested
  • Practice monogamous sex or limit the number of partners you have
  • Avoid douching
  • Avoiding or limiting alcohol and drugs

You should keep up with preventive women’s health services,  like pelvic exams and Pap smears, to detect HPV-related changes to your cervix. Call Montclair Concierge Medicine or schedule an appointment online to review membership options today.