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What is HPV and how do I prevent it?

HPV stands for human papillomavirus, and it affects as many as 50 percent of sexually active people at some point in their lives. Some strains of HPV cause genital warts, while other strains have no symptoms. Additionally, certain types can lead to cervical cancer.

Preventing HPV

While using condoms is a good way to prevent many sexually transmitted infections (STIs), they don’t always prevent the transmission of HPV. The two best ways to protect yourself against the virus are to either not have sex or maintain a monogamous relationship with your partner. Unfortunately, because there are so many varieties of HPV, it is possible to contract it more than once. If you contract a strain that causes genital warts, it can remain in your system even after the warts have disappeared.

Getting tested for STIs

Currently, there is not a test that detects all sexually transmitted infections. Even if you have regular Pap tests, you must still ask your doctor for an STI or HPV screening, as this procedure is not routine with most Pap smears. Screenings can include: Pelvic and physical exam Blood sampling Urine sampling Fluid or tissue sampling These samples are then sent to a lab for testing.

HPV Treatment Options

Currently, HPV has no cure. However, visible symptoms (such as genital warts) generally disappear on their own. In many cases, no treatment is needed, but your doctor will watch closely for any abnormal changes in your cells, which could lead to cervical cancer.

If abnormal cells are detected, your doctor may use cyrotherapy (freezing cells with liquid nitrogen), Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP) or conization (a biopsy to remove cells).

It is important to discuss your sexual history with your physician – he or she can determine which STI screenings are appropriate for you. Doing so can save your life.

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