New York City HPV Testing
Frequently Asked Questions
How common is HPV? Who gets it?
Genital human papilloma virus (HPV) is a very common virus. Some doctors think it’s almost as common as the cold virus. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that about 14 million people get a new HPV infection every year in the US.
Nearly all men and women who have ever had sex get at least one type of genital HPV at some time in their lives. This is true even for people who only have sex with one person in their lifetime.
What are the risk factors for genital HPV?
Anyone who has ever had sex is at risk for genital HPV.
Can genital HPV be prevented?
Completely avoiding contact of the areas of your body that can become infected with genital human papilloma virus (HPV) (like the mouth, anus, and genitals) with those of another person may be the only way to keep from becoming infected with HPV. This means not having vaginal, oral, or anal sex, but it also means not allowing those areas to come in contact with someone else’s skin.
HPV vaccines can prevent infection with the types of HPV most likely to cause cancer and genital warts. Having few sex partners and avoiding sex with people who have had many other sex partners helps lower the risk of exposure to genital HPV.
Condoms can help protect you from genital HPV infection, but HPV might be on skin that’s not covered by the condom. And condoms must be used every time, from start to finish. The virus can spread during direct skin-to-skin contact before the condom is put on, and male condoms don’t protect the entire genital area, especially for women. The female condom covers more of the vulva in women, but hasn’t been studied as carefully for its ability to protect against HPV. Condoms are very helpful, though, in protecting against other infections that can be spread through sexual activity.
It’s usually not possible to know who has genital HPV infection, and HPV is so common that even using these measures doesn’t guarantee that a person won’t get the virus. But they can help reduce the number of times a person is exposed to HPV.
What are the symptoms of HPV?
Genital human papilloma virus (HPV) infection usually has no symptoms, unless it’s an HPV type that causes genital warts. Genital warts may appear within weeks or months after contact with a partner who has HPV. The warts may also show up years after exposure, but this is rare. The warts usually look like small bumps or groups of bumps in the genital area. They can be small or large, raised or flat, or shaped like a cauliflower. If they’re not treated, genital warts might go away, stay and not change, or increase in size or number. But warts rarely turn into cancer.
Most people will never know they have HPV because they have no symptoms. In most people, their immune system attacks the virus and clears the HPV infection within 2 years. This is true of both high-risk and low-risk HPV types. But sometimes HPV infections are not cleared. This can lead to cell changes that over many years may develop into cancer.
Can HPV be treated?
There’s no treatment for the virus itself. But most genital human papilloma virus (HPV) infections go away with the help of a person’s immune system.
Even though HPV itself cannot be treated, the cell changes caused by an HPV infection can. For example, genital warts can be treated. Pre-cancer cell changes caused by HPV can be found by Pap tests and treated. And head and neck, cervical, anal, and genital cancers can be treated, too.
What’s the difference between a Pap test and an HPV test?
A Pap test is used to find cell changes or abnormal cells in the cervix. (These abnormal cells may be pre-cancer or cancer, but they may also be other things, too.) Cells are lightly scraped or brushed off the cervix. They are sent to a lab and looked at under a microscope to see if the cells are normal or if changes can be seen. The Pap test is a very good test for finding cancer cells and cells that might become cancer.
Human papilloma virus (HPV) is a virus that can cause cervix cell changes. The HPV test checks for the virus, not cell changes. The test can be done at the same time as the Pap test, with the same swab or a second swab. You won’t notice a difference in your exam if you have both tests. A Pap test plus an HPV test (called co-testing) is the preferred way to find early cervical cancers or pre-cancers in women 30 and older.