Human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Guy Benrubi, MD, a gynecologic oncologist at UF Health Gynecologic Oncology – Jacksonville says that if you have had sex, you have come into contact with HPV.
“What I tell my patients is that if you have had sex in the U.S., even if it isn’t vaginal-penial penetration, you probably have been infected with HPV,” Benrubi explained. “Almost 100 percent of people, and certainly 80 percent of women by age 50, have had an HPV infection.”
While this seems extreme, there is good news. HPV typically clears up on its own, although the virus never truly leaves your system. There are different reactions to HPV, depending on the strain of virus you contract.
Four reactions to HPV
1. No symptoms
2. Venereal warts
3. Vaginal irritation during intercourse
4. An abnormal Pap smear that indicates a change that if not stopped could become cervical cancer
About 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV, the CDC reports. However, there is a vaccine that could prevent the virus, and Benrubi says the best way to reduce your chances of getting cervical cancer is to get vaccinated.
“To date, it’s the only cancer that can be prevented by vaccine,” he said. “You don’t eliminate it 100 percent, but if kids get vaccinated young, like 10 or 11-years-old, we can reduce the cancer by probably 85 to 90 percent.”
How can HPV be detected?
The best way to determine whether you have HPV is by getting a Pap smear. The most recent government recommendations advise women between the ages of 21 and 65-years-old be tested annually.
“I recommend that any woman at age 21 have a screening test, and then based on what that test says, you can decide how often you want to have additional screenings,” Benrubi said. “Cervical cancer is not like breast cancer or lung cancer, because it is something that can be eliminated by taking three shots. I wish a lot of diseases had this prevention option.”
To schedule an appointment with UF Health General Obstetrics and Gynecology – Jacksonville, click here or call 904-633-0411.