Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a large family of over 200 viruses (or virus strains), many extremely common and completely harmless. HPV is so common that most sexually active people will become infected with at least one strain at some point during their lives.
Usually, HPV infections clear up independently with few or no noticeable symptoms. But some less-common types of HPV don’t go away on their own — including high-risk strains that increase your risk of cancer.
DeShawn Taylor, MD, MSc, FACOG, and the team at Desert Star Institute for Family Planning help women identify HPV infection early through annual exams and comprehensive STD testing. Here, learn more about high-risk HPV and what happens if you’re infected with one of these strains.
Quick facts about HPV
Like other sexually transmitted diseases, most human papillomavirus infections are spread through sexual contact, including vaginal, oral, and anal sex. HPV infections can be diagnosed through an HPV test or a Pap smear performed during a regular exam or as a standalone visit to detect STD infections.
HPV infections are roughly divided into high-risk and low-risk based on the associated cancer risk. To date, 12 HPV strains have been identified as high-risk viruses. These strains are more likely to cause cancers of the cervix, vulva, penis, vagina, anus, or throat.
While high-risk types of HPV can lead to cancer, they don’t always cause cancer, and a positive test result does not mean you currently have cancer. What’s more, the development of HPV-related cancers can take a long time — sometimes, the virus remains dormant for years after the initial HPV infection occurs.
Preventing and managing high-risk HPV
The best way to prevent HPV is to have an HPV vaccine, ideally before becoming sexually active. Vaccination is recommended for girls beginning at age 11, but other people may also benefit from the vaccine.
If you have an abnormal Pap or HPV test that indicates you might have a high-risk infection, the next step in most cases is to have a second type of exam called a colposcopy. In this exam, Dr. Taylor uses a special lighted scope to evaluate your vagina, vulva, and other areas, obtaining tissue samples as needed.
If your samples show precancerous or cancerous cells, Dr. Taylor discusses treatment options to eliminate those cells and prevent them from returning. The type of treatment she recommends depends on the location of the cancer and other factors.
Schedule your HPV test today
High-risk HPV infection rarely causes noticeable symptoms in its earlier stages, which is why having regular exams with Pap smears is so important for your health.
To schedule your Pap smear or HPV test, call 480-447-8857 or book an appointment online with Dr. Taylor and the Desert Star Family Planning team today.