7 Myths About HPV
Human papilloma virus (HPV) is a multitude of viruses that breed in the dark damp areas of our bodies - the moist membranes of the lips, genitals, anus and cervix.
There are more than 100 types of HPV, 30 of which infect the genitals. HPV infections are very common. The infection is transmitted through sex, oral sex and sexual activities - it's all about skin-to-skin contact.
HPV is set to overtake smoking as the number one cause of oral cancer, so it's serious, but don't believe everything you read (apart from this) because there are a number of myths about HPV. Let's bust 'em like Van Helsing.
1. HPV is rare
No, quite the opposite. Genital HPV is extremely common; most people have it at some point. There are 14 million new diagnoses in the States each year, and it's the second most common STI in England (the first is chlamydia, in case you were wondering). HPV is easily spread, which may have something to do with its commonality.
2. HPV gives you cancer
Some of the types, like HPV 16 and HPV 18, can cause skin changes that develop into anal cancer, oesophageal cancer, or cervical cancer. Others lead to warts. If you pick up genital warts they'll look and feel like tiny cauliflowers. Visit your GP or clinic to get them removed.
3. Men don't get HPV
Yes, men can pick up HPV too. Any sexually active person is at risk of HPV, even if you've had only one sexual partner. So far it's only schoolgirls that are entitled to an HPV vaccine, but campaigners are calling for a male equivalent.
4. Genital warts give you cancer
No. Genital warts don't cause cancer. Warts can appear on the genitals, anus, and mouth but the kind of HPV that causes visible warts is a low-risk one. Head to your clinic to have them removed.
5. Condoms protect against HPV
They may help to lower the risk so always use one. Dental dams can help protect during oral sex too. Limiting sexual partners can also provide some protection, so this is something to bear in mind.
The virus is spread via skin-on-skin contact, so it can be transmitted on difficult to cover places such as the scrotum or the vulva, that are exposed even when using a condom.
6. HPV is curable
Warts and precancerous lesions are treatable but the virus itself is not. However, The Centre for Disease Control reports that 90% of cases are killed off by the immune system within two years.
7. HPV symptoms are obvious - they're warts
Genital warts are caused by several types of HPV, but there are 100 types and not all of them have symptoms. Some people can carry and spread the virus without knowing because they have no symptoms. Don't be surprised if you suddenly develop genital warts despite being in a monogamous long-term relationship - chances are no-one has been unfaithful, it's just taken that long for the symptoms to come out.