The human papillomavirus, or HPV, is garnering a lot of attention recently, thanks to efforts by the medical community and the United States government to increase awareness of this common sexually-transmitted infection. At Women’s Center for Health, we’re joining this effort in order to protect the health of our patients here in Wichita, Kansas.
So, why all the fuss about HPV? Here’s what you should know about the infection and, more importantly, how you can best prevent or manage it.
By the numbers
In order to help you understand the broad scale of HPV, it’s helpful to take a quick look at the numbers. The first number to look at has to do with the different strains of HPV. There are approximately 40 types of the virus that can be transmitted through sexual contact, meaning vaginally, anally, and orally.
Given that number, it’s no wonder that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 79 million men and women are infected with HPV. In fact, the CDC goes on to suggest that about 80% of sexually active women will have some form of the infection over the course of their lives.
The trick in pinning down the numbers is that most people with HPV aren’t aware they’re infected. A majority of those who carry the virus show no outward symptoms, and the infection typically resolves itself on its own. While this may be bad news for statistics, it’s good news for those who are infected with HPV.
At this point you’re probably still wondering what all the fuss about. Here it is: HPV, if left untreated, can lead to genital warts and, much more seriously, cervical cancer. In rare cases, it can also cause throat cancer.
Almost 13,000 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year, and just under one third of those women die from the disease. While cancer is never good news, cervical cancer is an extremely dangerous and aggressive disease that can be very difficult to treat in its later stages.
The good news when it comes to HPV is twofold. For starters, HPV is easy to detect and treat, as are precancerous cells on your cervix. During your annual examinations with us, we determine what to test for based on your lifestyle and your previous test results, so that we can stay on top of any developments. If we discover any abnormalities, we can treat you promptly, helping you avoid much larger health issues down the road.
Second, in 2006 a vaccine was introduced that protects against HPV, which will have a big impact on future numbers. The vaccine is typically administered to all children between the ages of 9 and 11. It can also be given to men and women up to 26 years old if they missed out as a child.
What you can do
The most important thing you can do to protect yourself against HPV is to do what you’re doing now — educate yourself. If you missed out on the vaccine, talk to us about ways to prevent contracting the disease. Practicing safe sex is a great way to thwart HPV, but even condoms aren’t foolproof since the infection can be passed orally.
A key component in educating yourself is to keep up with your visits to Women’s Center for Health. Our OB/GYNs know exactly what to look out for when it comes to HPV, and early intervention can mean the difference between a minor medical nuisance and a cancer diagnosis. For example, genital warts are the most common symptom of HPV, and our doctors can quickly and easily remedy those.
When it comes to your health, the more you know, the better. If you still have questions about HPV, feel free to call us or use the online booking tool to schedule a consultation.