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Ask The Expert: Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

What is Human Papillomavirus infection? You might be asking yourself this after a visit to your doctor’s office where you read a brochure on the topic or after being vaccinated for Human Papillomavirus prevention. Human Papillomavirus, otherwise known as HPV, is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that commonly causes the growth of genital/skin warts. The HPV vaccine is usually administered to children aged 11-12, but can be given to young adults up to 26 years of age. This vaccine does not protect against the development of other STIs, so it is important to always use contraceptives such as condoms. Read on to have your questions answered by Stefanie D’Arrigo, USF medical student resident at the Ybor Youth Clinic!

Q: What is Human Papillomavirus?

A: Human Papillomavirus, more commonly known as HPV, is a virus that can be responsible for certain skin lesions and cancers. There are multiple different types of HPV. Some subtypes are more known to cause cancers than others.

Q: How does HPV spread?

A: HPV spreads through direct skin contact with someone who has the virus. This can be transmitted sexually during vaginal, anal, and/or oral sex. HPV can spread even if there are no obvious signs of the virus. Symptoms do not always occur immediately after having sex with one person and sometimes can take years to show. This is why it is difficult to tell when you were infected with HPV. You can get HPV even if you have only had one sexual partner.

Q: Does HPV cause cancer?

A: Yes. HPV causes different types of cancers including cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, and/or anus. It can also cause cancer in the back of the throat. Cancer may not show up right away after being exposed to HPV and can take multiple years to develop. There is no way to predict who will get cancer if infected with HPV. However, there is an increased risk of cancer in certain types of HPV.

Q: Should I get vaccinated against HPV?

A: The HPV vaccine protects against 9 subtypes of HPV: 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58. There are 12 high-risk HPV types: HPV 16, 18, 31, 33, 35, 39, 45, 51, 52, 56, 58, and 59, with 16 and 18 being the most common to cause cancers. These are covered in the vaccine.

Q: Is there a cure for HPV?

A: It used to be thought that people infected with HPV would have it for life, but more recent studies have shown that most healthy individuals can clear HPV over 2 or more years. Genital warts can be removed via cryotherapy (freezing) and/or excision. Cervical and other cancers caused by HPV, if detected early, have various treatment options.

Q: How can I protect myself against HPV?

A: You can protect yourself against HPV by getting vaccinated, getting screened for cervical cancer, and using proper forms of protection from STIs when you are sexually active. The vaccine is a safe and effective way to protect yourself against HPV and developing cervical cancer. Screening for cervical cancer is very important for early detection. It is recommended that women aged 21-65 get screened for cervical cancer via pap smear. Proper protection against STIs includes condom use when sexually active. However, it is important to note that condoms do not cover all the skin that may be infected with HPV, therefore condoms do not offer 100% protection against HPV.

Stefanie D’Arrigo DO USF Pediatrics PGY-2

Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine

Ybor Youth Clinic  - You can learn more information about making an appointment here!  


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