There are over 100 different types of HPV. While some types cause only minor health problems, such as warts on your hands or feet, most types of HPV do not cause any symptoms and go away on their own. However, there are over 40 types of HPV that affect the genital area, and some can lead to less serious problems such as genital warts, while others can lead to more serious health problems, such as abnormal cervical cells (precancerous cells), which can lead to cervical cancer. These types of HPV can be easily spread through sexual contact. Cervical cancer and precancerous cells can be detected through your regular Pap test. Not everything you may hear about HPV, Pap tests, cervical cancer, and genital warts is correct, however – let's look at some facts and myths.
If I stay with one partner, I won't get HPV.
Myth. If your partner has ever been with someone else in the past, he or she could have an HPV infection and they could give it to you. Of course, the more sexual partners you have, the higher the risk of developing HPV, but being in a monogamous relationship won't guarantee that you won't get it.
You can get HPV through other sexual acts, not just intercourse.
Fact. The most common way of spreading HPV is by skin-to-skin contact, so any sexual act of any type can spread the infection.
If I have abnormal cervical cells, I have cancer.
Myth. Abnormal cervical cells, or cervical dysplasia, are often caused by HPV and can lead to cervical cancer. However, the abnormal cells themselves are not cancerous. Some abnormal cells return to normal, while others go on to become cancerous. Your doctor will decide if the abnormal cells will be removed, if additional tests need to be done, or if you should watch and wait to see what happens.
A Pap test will help catch cervical cancer early.
Fact. A Pap test is a simple test that examines the cells on the cervix. It helps to detect abnormal cells on your cervix (which may turn into cancer) and to catch cervical cancer early, when it is easier to treat.
I should have a Pap test after starting sexual activity, regardless of my age.
Myth. Doctors recommend that you should have a Pap test every 3 years starting at the age of 25 and up to the age of 70. Women who have started sexual activity and are younger than 25 do not have to be screened. However, this can vary depending on your medical history. Ask your doctor when you should start having Pap tests, and how often you will need to have them.
Removing genital warts gets rid of the infection.
Myth. Genital warts can be removed in several ways. Medications that are applied directly to the warts may be prescribed by your doctor or you may have a procedure done in the doctor's office such as freezing (cryotherapy), burning, laser, or other minor surgical procedures. However, removing the warts will not get rid of the HPV infection because the virus remains in the body. There isn't a cure for HPV infection yet, even though the warts may go away on their own.
Someone who has had an HPV vaccine doesn't need to go for Pap tests.
Myth. HPV vaccination is not a substitute for regular Pap tests and check-ups. You will still need to get Pap tests even if you have received HPV vaccination. Talk to your doctor about how often you should be having a Pap test.
Safer sex will reduce your risk of catching HPV.
Fact. Safer sex can help reduce your chances of getting HPV. Using condoms won't provide complete protection against HPV because the virus can be on parts of the skin that aren't covered by condoms. But it's still a good idea to use condoms, as they can help prevent pregnancy and other sexually transmitted infections. Keep your condoms at room temperature and inspect them, as well as their expiry date, before using them.
Limiting your number of sexual partners can also reduce your risk of catching HPV. Abstinence, or not having sex at all, can keep you from catching HPV.
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