HPV is a common infection that’s contracted through skin-to-skin contact. Some HPV viruses can cause warts to develop on your hands, while others may cause you to get warts on the bottoms of your feet. HPV infections that spread through sexual contact are so common that nearly all sexually active people will get HPV at some point in their lives. Most people contract HPV for the first time shortly after they become sexually active.
About 79 million Americans are infected with some form of HPV, and another 14 million people become newly infected every year.
About 90% of people who get HPV never develop symptoms or complications because their bodies can fight off the infection effectively. It’s also possible for the virus to stay dormant, causing you to develop symptoms months or even years later, making it difficult to know exactly when the initial infection occurred.
There are two general categories of sexually transmitted HPV infection. Low-risk HPV can cause genital warts or small, contagious bumps that appear in the genital area. High-risk HPV can eventually lead to several types of cancer, including cervical, vulvar, and vaginal in women, penile cancer in men, and anal and throat cancer in both genders.
There’s no one test that can reveal a person’s HPV status, and there’s no test that can detect the virus in men. There is, however, an HPV test that can be used to detect the virus in women accurately. The cervical HPV test is designed to detect the presence of the two specific types of HPV — type 16 and type 18 — that increase your risk of developing cervical cancer.
The test involves taking samples of your cervical cells in a quick pap smear procedure. A negative result means that you don’t have either type of HPV that causes cervical cancer. A positive result doesn’t indicate that you have cervical cancer; rather, it means that you have one of the types of high-risk HPV that can cause cervical cancer. HPV tests are recommended for women over the age of 30.
If you have a positive result from an HPV test but your pap smear was normal, your gynecologist may recommend more regular follow-up testing to better monitor the situation as it progresses. If your positive HPV test also resulted in an irregular Pap smear result, further testing or treatment may be needed. This often includes a follow-up procedure to examine your cervix more closely, a biopsy of abnormal cervical cells, and the removal of any abnormal or precancerous cells.
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