"Why am I just NOW finding out I have HPV?"
I get this question often from patients, so I'd like to clear up a few things on HPV (find more detailed info on our blog GynoGroupie.com) From a scientific perspective, the association between HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) and genital warts, cervical dysplasia (abnormal pap smear) and cervical cancer has been long known.
In fact, HPV is known to be the cause of most cases of cervical cancer. HPV is a widely common viral infection, spread most commonly through sexual contact. ACOG notes that nearly 3 out of 4 sexually active "people" (not just women) will experience the HPV infection at some time. Most cases of HPV infection occur with NO SYMPTOMS at all, and our bodies own immune systems are very good at fighting off these early infections. Because of the viral nature of this infection, even once 'cleared' (dormant phase), it can recur (active phase.) Some of the confusion for patients comes in that they've 'never heard of HPV' or 'never heard of having HPV before'. This could be because their HPV is a 'recent' infection, but more likely, it's because they hadn't been tested (or not aware of being tested) for it before. The commercially available tests for HPV have only been available for (appox) the last 10 years. Recommendations for HPV testing, as a 'co-testing' (along with the pap smear) in screening for cervical cancer, have been in place from about the same time. The truth is, if you've had a genital wart or an abnormal pap (showing cervical dysplasia)...you've already (at some point) been exposed to and acquired the HPV infection...even if this was before 'the actual HPV test' was available to prove it. "So what do I do now?" Have the genital warts or abnormal pap treated and followed as recommended by your Health Care Provider, use condoms to prevent further STD exposure (if you're at risk)...and try to worry a bit less in having (or having had) HPV. From a medical perspective, the real advantage in using the HPV test is in discriminating between an early abnormal pap (ASCUS) from a 'false positive' pap test/and as an adjunct to the pap smear in cervical cancer screening...NOT just to DETERMINE who's (ever) been EXPOSED !
** If You have any women's medical questions you would like answered anonymously by Dr. Suzy Hall, please click on the link above that says ASK Dr. Suzy Wednesdays. Be sure and check back every Wednesday for a new topic on Women's Health.*****