Is HPV the only way to get cervical cancer? | What are the symptoms of HPV infection and cervical cancer? | How does someone get HPV? | How can I avoid getting HPV? | Does anything make HPV more dangerous to me? | Does having HPV affect my pregnancy? | Should I tell my partner I have HPV? | What can men do about HPV?

Is HPV the only way to get cervical cancer?

Yes, you must have high-risk HPV in your body to get cervical cancer. HPV itself is not cancer, but it can cause cell changes that turn into cancer.

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What are the symptoms of HPV infection and cervical cancer?

This is a problem. It’d be easier if high-risk HPV announced its arrival with trumpets and a rash.

The high-risk HPV types that can cause critical cancer don’t cause any symptoms. No warts. No blisters. Nothing. Abnormal cell changes don’t cause symptoms either. In fact, the early stages of cervical cancer often don’t cause symptoms.

(If there are any cervical cancer symptoms, they may include pain during sex, unusual vaginal discharge or bleeding – especially after sex – lower back pain, and/or painful urination. If you have any of those symptoms, contact your healthcare provider.)

Our tip to you: The path to cervical cancer – HPV infection, abnormal cells, and early cancer – is a silent one. Over a period of years your cervix may be developing a problem without you suspecting a thing. That’s why it’s so important to get tested regularly.

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How does someone get HPV?

Most people get HPV through vaginal or anal intercourse.

HPV can also be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact in the genital area (the area around the vagina and penis).

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How can I avoid getting HPV?

  • The best way to avoid HPV is not to have sex or sexual contact.
  • If you choose to have sex, have your partner use condoms. Condoms can help protect against HPV. But since you can get HPV from skin-to-skin contact in the genital area, even people who use condoms can get HPV.
  • Agree with your partner to only have sex or sexual contact with each other. But remember, even if you both swear total fidelity, you still have to be tested, like everyone else.
  • If you are 26 or younger, you may be able to get an HPV vaccine. It’s approved for girls and young women ages 9 through 26, but is recommended specifically for girls ages 11 and 12. The vaccine helps protect against the two types of HPV that cause approximately 70% of all cervical cancers.

    Women who are pregnant should not get the HPV vaccine until after the baby is born.

    Ask your healthcare provider about the vaccine and how it can protect you from HPV and cervical cancer. And yes, you still have to be tested like everyone else. For more about this, go to Does the HPV vaccine protect me from cervical cancer?

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Does anything make HPV more dangerous to me?

Yes. If any of these factors are in your life, you and your healthcare provider must pay special attention.

  • Smoking. Yet another reason to stop now! See quitsmoking.about.com
  • A compromised immune system. Many diseases can compromise the immune system – making it difficult to fight off infection such as HPV. These diseases include lupus and HIV/AIDS. When you are tested, make sure your medical provider knows if you have a compromised immune system.
  • An infection with chlamydia or herpes simplex virus type 2.
  • Multiple pregnancies. The more babies a woman has given birth to, the greater her risk of cervical cancer. Researchers suggest that this could be a result of hormonal changes during pregnancy or changes in the immune system during pregnancy.
  • A first-degree relative (mother or sister) with a history of cervical cancer. Research reports that this increases personal risk three-fold.
  • Low levels of folic acid (a type of Vitamin B). Ask your health care provider if you need to be tested for this, and how you can increase your intake of this vitamin.
  • Possibly, the use of oral contraceptives for over 10 years. The jury is still out.Exposure while in the womb to a medication called DES, which was prescribed to many women to prevent miscarriage between 1938 and 1971. The daughters of women given low-dose DES are at risk.

Our tip to you: Tell your healthcare provider if you have any factors that may increase your risk of HPV creating abnormal cells. You can work together to monitor your risk.

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Does having HPV affect my pregnancy?

In most instances, no. But in some rare cases, the virus can be transmitted to the baby during delivery.

If you have HPV and are planning on becoming pregnant, speak with your healthcare provider, who can help you manage any risks.

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Should I tell my partner I have HPV?

Whether to talk to your sexual partner about HPV is your decision. But if you decide to, remember that:

  • Chances are, by the time your infection was detected, your partner had already been exposed to HPV.
  • Once you share a particular type of the virus through sexual contact, there is no further risk of passing the infection back and forth. If you are sexually active with a new partner, using a condom provides some, although not complete, protection.
  • It’s almost impossible to determine who gave you HPV or when you first became infected. You could have gotten it from your current partner or any of your previous partners.
  • If your partner is a male, there is no FDA-approved HPV test for men. Fortunately men rarely have health problems from HPV.

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What can men do about HPV?

Men can get HPV. They can pass it along to women (and vice versa). Though there’s no current FDA-approved vaccine or test for HPV in men, health problems from HPV are rare in males.

What men can do is always agree to your request to use condoms. (Condoms provide some protection against HPV, though they are more effective against other sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV and chlamydia.) Men can encourage, praise, thank you for getting tested regularly. And if you are diagnosed with cervical cancer, they can step up and be supportive in every way possible.

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Tamika & Friends is supported by an unrestricted educational grant from QIAGEN.