What You Need to Know
Teens are especially vulnerable to Human Papillomavirus (HPV), but you can make a difference.
Start With the Basics
All women need to know that there is a link between HPV and cervical cancer. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. There are over 100 types of HPV and over 30 of them are sexually transmitted.
- Most types of HPV go away on their own and cause no health problems.
- Several types of HPV are high-risk. These types can lead to cervical cancer in women. High-risk types of HPV can also cause less common cancers of the anus, penis, vagina, and vulva.
- Other types of HPV (low-risk types) cause genital warts in men and women. Having genital warts does not lead to cancer.
How to Prevent HPV
HPV is spread by genital skin-to-skin contact, especially during sex. A person can have HPV without knowing it; you can't tell by looking at a person whether he or she has it. Lower your chances of getting HPV by:
- Use condoms every time you have sex. Condoms have been shown to lower the chances of getting HPV. While condoms don't work 100% of the time, they do help.
- Have sex with only one person who only has sex with you. The more people you or your partners have sex with, the more likely it is that you will get HPV.
- Choose not to have any sexual contact. If there is no sexual contact at all, it's not likely you will get HPV.
The HPV Vaccine
The HPV vaccine prevents four types of HPV -- two high-risk types (16 and 18) that cause 70% of cervical cancer cases; and two low-risk types (6 and 11) that cause 90% of genital warts.
- The HPV vaccine is recommended for 11-12 year old girls, though girls as young as 9 can get it.
- Young women aged 13 through 26 can get the vaccine if they did not have the entire 3-shot series at a younger age.
- The HPV vaccine works best if girls get the all 3 shots before they start having sex.
- You can still get the vaccine even if they have already had sex.
Other Ways to Prevent Cervical Cancer
Young women need to get regular Pap tests, starting 3 years after they start having sex. The thing is, most of the nearly 10,000 women diagnosed every year with cervical cancer have either never had a Pap test, or have not had a Pap test in the last five years. The HPV vaccine will not prevent all cases of cervical cancer, but regular Pap tests and follow-up care can prevent most other cases.
- The Pap test checks for changes in the cells of the cervix. Sometimes, these changes can lead to cancer if not treated.
- A woman can find out if she needs treatment by having a Pap test. The doctor will check for any cell changes.
- You can get treated early. Early treatment will help protect her from cancer of the cervix.
- Get a Pap test every one to three years.
- Get follow-up care if your Pap test is abnormal. Find out from your doctor what to expect.