Coping with HPV

Learning That You Have HPV Can Seem Frightening

Finding out you have HPV can be confusing and even overwhelming, particularly if you don’t have all the facts first. Here are some questions and answers addressing some of the most common concerns and emotions patients may feel when they first learn they have HPV.

Q

Do you feel embarrassed or ashamed about having HPV because it is a sexually transmitted infection?

A

HPV is a skin cell virus that is as common as catching a cold. It can be passed by any "intimate" skin-to-skin contact, although it is most easily passed when there is sexual intercourse. It is important to know that almost everyone who has had sex with another person may become infected by HPV. Anybody who has been sexually active, even with only one partner who has had another partner, is at risk for becoming infected by HPV. This includes women having sex with women.

Many women have never heard of HPV. Every woman knows she’s supposed to get a Pap test, and the Pap test is a check to see if cervical cells are abnormal. The missing piece of information all along has been that the cause of these abnormal cells is HPV.



Q

What are the most frequent misunderstandings women have about HPV?

A

Many women do not realize that almost everyone will have HPV at some point. Patients who find out that they have a positive test for HPV often have questions, such as “When did I get this?”, “Does my partner need to be seen?” ,or “What can I do to get rid of the virus?” They can be reassured that most HPV will go away on its own, like a cold.

There is no treatment for HPV at this time, but knowing the virus is present tells your doctor to watch your cervix more closely as long as the virus is there. If abnormal cells develop, those changes can be treated to prevent them from becoming cancer cells.

Please note: Men have HPV infections, but have less risk for the development of abnormal cells. The male external genital skin does not pose the same risk as the female cervix, even when HPV is there a long time. If you find out that you have HPV and you are in an ongoing relationship, you will not pass the virus back and forth. Whether you develop abnormal cells depends on whether the virus goes away or stays a long time, as well as other factors that are not well understood.



Q

What's the most important thing to know if your doctor says you need follow-up testing because you have HPV?

A

Understand that you’re not alone – and that at least you and your doctor know this information so that your cervix can be monitored closely. It is important to obtain the follow-up care that your healthcare provider recommends because of your positive HPV test.