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Separating HPV fact from fiction

Riddle Hospital March 3, 2014 General Wellness

true and false with check boxes written on chalkboardAccording to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly all sexually active men and women will contract at least one of the more than 40 types of genital human papillomavirus (HPV) at some point in their lives. Although the risk of HPV has only recently been brought to the public’s attention and communicated, statistics like this make it clear that it isn’t something you can afford to overlook.

Although plenty of health information on HPV and its causes and side effects is readily available, there are still myths floating around about HPV, how it’s contracted, who can be affected, and more. Below, Lauren Castleberry, MD, OB/GYN at Riddle Hospital, separates HPV fact from fiction.

HPV is something only women have to worry about: False.

Anyone who is having or has ever had sex can get HPV, men included. HPV isn’t limited to heterosexual couples, either; same-sex couples are also at risk. Because everyone is susceptible to forms of HPV, vaccination is critical to prevention.

The only way I can get HPV is through vaginal sex: False.

Men and women can contract HPV from their partners during oral, vaginal, and anal sex, as well as any genital-to-genital contact. Keep in mind that even though the infected party may not have any signs or symptoms, there is always a risk of passing on a virus unless the person has been vaccinated.

HPV can cause cancer: True.

Most people who are infected with HPV never develop any serious health issues, and, in most cases, the infection will disappear within a couple of years. However, in some rare cases, infections will persist and cause serious issues, like cervical cancer, genital cancers, and a type of head or neck cancer called oropharyngeal cancer. Many of these are potentially preventable by vaccination.

If I use condoms, I’m not at risk for HPV: False.

Condoms are effective against certain infections like gonorrhea and HIV that are spread through bodily fluids, but they are less likely to be protective against HPV and other infections spread through skin-to-skin contact, like herpes. Condoms can lower your risk for HPV, but don’t protect you entirely.

The best way to protect yourself from HPV is to get vaccinated. Vaccines are recommended for boys and girls as young as 9 years old and until age 26. Three shots are administered over a series of six months. Talk to your doctor about scheduling an appointment for you or a family member.

In addition to getting vaccinated, you can lower your chance for HPV by being in a faithful relationship with one partner, limiting your number of sexual partners, and making sure that your partner has been vaccinated for HPV.

If you have additional questions about the HPV vaccine, talk to your doctor. To make an appointment with a Main Line Health physician to schedule or discuss a vaccination, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.