HPV can cause genital warts and some cancers…help protect yourself with these tips
by Stephanie Brooks, Health Writer
Did you know that more than 50% of all sexually active people (that’s women and men) will have HPV at some point in their lives? Some researchers think that number may actually be closer to 80%…in other words, you probably know plenty of people who have or will have HPV. It also means you might have it, too.
Luckily, the vast majority of people who catch HPV (human papillomavirus) will never know it because they won’t have symptoms. There are different types of HPV that cause different symptoms. For example, certain types of HPV can cause genital warts while other types of HPV can cause certain cancers…including cancer of the cervix, and more rarely, cancers of the vulva, penis and throat.
So, how can you protect yourself?
Here are 4 ways to reduce your risk of HPV:
- Use protection when you have sex…any kind of sex. By using a condom or dental dam when you have oral sex, and a condom when you have vaginal sex or anal sex, you can reduce the risk of passing HPV between two people. Remember, though, that HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact…so any area not covered by a condom or dental dam could expose you to the virus.
- Limit the number of people you have sex with…sure, you could get HPV from the first person you ever have oral, vaginal or anal sex with. But research shows that your risk increases with every new partner.
- Delay your “first time.” Research also shows that people who have sex for the first time at an earlier age are more likely to catch HPV. If this no longer pertains to you, talk to teenagers you know about the benefit of waiting to reduce the risk of getting HPV.
- Consider the HPV vaccine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two HPV vaccines for young people between the ages of 9 and 26. One of the vaccines protects against the kinds of HPV that cause most cervical cancers in women; and the other vaccine protects against those HPV strains, plus the types that cause most genital warts in men and women. Boys can take the vaccine, too, so talk to your doctor – or your children’s doctor – to discuss whether a vaccine makes sense for you or someone you know. And most experts recommend the HPV vaccine for anyone with a new sexual partner, regardless of age.
Also, remember that you can’t tell if you have HPV just by looking…some people who have the virus don’t know it, because they don’t show any symptoms. So it’s a good idea for women to get regular Pap tests (there no reliable HPV test for men, yet)…and both men and women should give themselves regular genital self-exams to look for warts or other changes. As always, check with your doctor if you see something out of the ordinary.
Bottom line? HPV can be a serious disease. But there are things you can do to keep yourself safe.