Approximately 20 million people in the United States are presently infected with human papilloma virus (HPV), and there are as many as 6 million new infections each year. HPV, which is sexually transmitted, is associated with genital warts and in some cases with the development of cancer. Here’s what you need to know.
What type of cancer is associated with HPV?
Although most cases of HPV resolve without being associated with cancer, the virus occasionally lingers. It is not well understood why HPV infections do not always resolve and occasionally persist. However, in these more rare cases of persistent infection, HPV is linked to cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and throat.
Cervical cancer, one of the cancers most strongly associated with HPV infection in women, is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women globally. Of the approximately 10,000 women in the United States diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, as many as 4,000 women are expected to die as a result. Because HPV infection can be linked to such serious cancers, it is important to do what you can to protect yourself.
What can I do to protect myself?
A vaccine can protect you from some of the most common types of HPV. Vaccines have been developed to protect against infection with some of the most common types of the virus. There are three HPV vaccines (Cervarix®, Gardasil®, and Gardasil 9®). According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), girls and young women should get any of these HPV vaccines to prevent cervical cancer. Gardasil and Gardasil 9 also protect against genital warts and anal cancer in males.
While vaccination can be an important tool in preventing HPV infection, it is important to remember that vaccines protect against only some of the HPV types that exist. Also, the vaccine does not protect against HPV that is already in the body. HPV is relatively common, so most sexually active adults are eventually exposed to the virus. Therefore, it is advisable to receive the HPV vaccine before becoming sexually active. You can consult with your doctor to determine if HPV vaccination is a good choice for you or your child.
How do I know if I have HPV?
While HPV can cause genital warts, HPV is often without symptoms. Because certain HPV infections come with a high risk of cancer, women aged 30 or older should be tested for HPV directly in addition to having a Pap test, which determines whether cancerous or pre-cancerous cells are present in a woman’s cervix. Several commercial tests for HPV are available. One such test, the urine-based HPV high-risk (HR) Detection Test offered by Trovagene, is available in a noninvasive and convenient format that requires only a urine sample. The test can detect 13 of the high-risk HPV types, using molecular, DNA-based diagnostic techniques. A positive result on the HPV HR Detection Test may indicate that additional follow up with your health care provider is warranted.