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Human Papillomavirus


Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common virus. Some research suggests that at least three out of four people who have sex will get a genital HPV infection at some time during their lives. HPV is primarily spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex, but sexual intercourse is not required for infection to occur. HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact. Approximately 15 types of HPV are linked to cancer of the anus, cervix, vulva, vagina, and penis. They also can cause cancer of the head and neck. These types of HPV are known as “high-risk types.” Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by just two types of HPV: types 16 and 18. HPV infection causes cervical cells to become abnormal (precancerous). These changes happen over several years and eventually, the cells may progress to cancerous cells. The precancerous changes or cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) are treatable provided that the person has been diagnosed at this stage. This is why regular checkups and pap smears are extremely important. There is no medical cure for HPV—it is best to take steps to prevent it. Young women can prevent certain types of HPV infection by being vaccinated. There are currently two types of HPV vaccines available and are used for girls between age 9-26 years. You can decrease your risk of infection by avoiding contact with the virus. The following can help decrease your chance of infection: Limit your number of sexual partners. The more partners you have over the course of your life, the greater the risk of infection. Use condoms to reduce your risk of infection when you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Condoms also help protect against other STDs. Condoms cannot fully protect you against HPV infection. 


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Nezhat Solimani, MD
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