Teach Me

HPV: Myth Vs. Fact

You may have come across the term “HPV” recently—on television, in news articles—especially as it relates to the vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV). But what exactly is HPV, and is everything you’ve seen, heard or read, accurate? Jennifer Rubatt, MD, an OBGYN with Banner Health, helps decipher what’s true and what’s not.

MD Anderson Cancer Center recommends all men and women ages 9–26 should get the HPV vaccine. Remember, when given at ages 11-12, it is most effective. Unvaccinated men and women ages 27–45 can also get the HPV vaccine and should talk to their doctor about the benefits of the vaccine.

MYTH: HPV is only contracted through sexual intercourse

FACT: HPV is a common virus that lives in the skin and is passed from person to person by direct skin contact. While most cases are sexually transmitted, people who haven’t had intercourse can become infected. That’s because some strains of HPV can live for short periods of time on non-living surfaces.

MYTH: Only women can get HPV

FACT: Both men and women can have HPV. In fact, about 80% of people will get an HPV infection at some point in their lives.

MYTH: People with HPV show symptoms

FACT: Most people with HPV don’t know they’re infected and never develop symptoms or health problems from it. In most cases, your immune system fights off the infection within a couple of years.

MYTH: A diagnosis of HPV means you will get cancer

FACT: The HPV infection alone does not predict cancer. While there are several cancers typically caused by an HPV infection—cervical cancer, throat cancer and tonsil cancer, to name a few—having an HPV infection does not mean you will get cancer. Usually, the body will clear up on its own.

MYTH: There is a cure for HPV

FACT: There is no treatment or cure for the virus itself. However, many of the conditions that are caused by HPV, such as cervical cancer, can be treated. This includes pre-cancerous lesions, which can be removed by excision (cutting out), and skin warts. Invasive cancer caused by HPV may be treatable with surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.

MYTH: The HPV vaccine has dangerous side effects

FACT: Like any vaccine, the HPV vaccine may cause mild side effects. The most commonly reported are pain at the site of injection and brief loss of consciousness (passing out) after injection.

If you’re concerned about your risk of contracting HPV, or would just like more information, contact a Banner Health provider.

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