Ask Kim: What’s the Deal With HPV?

Dear Kim, 

I am seeing a new partner and recently found out that they have HPV. I don’t really know a lot about HPV, except I’ve heard it can cause cancer. How concerned should I be? And what precautions can I take to keep myself healthy? 


Safety First 

Dear Safety, 

I get this question often, so I’m glad you’re giving me the opportunity to clear up some misconceptions. Like you, many people’s only knowledge about HPV is that it can lead to cancer. While this is true, there’s a lot of other important information missing here.  

First, it’s important to know that HPV is incredibly common. Most people who have sex will get genital HPV at some point in their lives and not even know it – their bodies will fight it off and they never show symptoms. Some of these people will experience genital warts. These will normally go away on their own after a while, but they can be annoying or uncomfortable, as well as spread HPV. Your healthcare provider can treat warts to make them go away faster. 

Some strains of HPV can lead to cancer. Today, there are very effective ways to prevent this. One line of defense is getting the Gardasil vaccine series. This vaccine protects you against the strains of HPV most likely to lead to cancer. It’s also important to get a regular Pap test, if you have a cervix, as well as rectal Paps, if your provider determines you are at risk of rectal HPV. If you engage in anal sex, be sure to tell your healthcare provider and request a rectal Pap test. The Health Collective can provide both rectal and cervical Pap test services. 

It’s also a good idea to let your dentist know if you engage in oral sex, because oral HPV is a leading cause of head and neck cancers. Many dental providers, including ours at the Health Collective, can perform a simple spit test to check for HPV in the mouth. 

If your Pap detects abnormal cells, a healthcare provider can remove these cells, or may recommend watching and waiting, if the abnormal cells are low-risk and likely to resolve on their own.  

Last, while using condoms can’t completely prevent HPV transmission, they can reduce your risk. Using condoms with all partners will make it less likely that you’ll transmit or be infected with genital HPV. 

Just remember, HPV is incredibly common, and most often harmless. If you take the steps above to protect your health, your risk of serious complications can be minimized. 

Be well, be yourself! 


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