What’s one thing that almost all sexually-active people have in common? No, not necessarily a colourful sex life. It’s Human papillomavirus (HPV). What is Human papillomavirus, you ask? It refers to a group of viruses that affect your skin. Highly contagious, this sexually transmitted infection (STI) affects almost all sexually active people contract one type of HPV at some point in their lives.
There are multiple types of HPV, and most of them go away on their own. Some types can also lead to problems like genital warts, while others cause serious medical concerns like cervical cancer and some oropharyngeal cancers – cancers of the tongue, the tonsils or back of the mouth.
We believe that the best way to beat the problem, is to be aware. If you know what HPV is and how to prevent it, then you can also prevent cervical cancer and other types of cancer that HPV causes. So here’s a crash course on the dreaded HPV:
How does HPV lead to cancer?
Your immune system can deal with most HPV infections. However, in some cases, it can lead to cancer by causing abnormal tissue growth and normal cells to change. This can take years to develop and usually show no signs of infection.
How do I get HPV?
HPV gets transmitted through genital contact (intercourse) as well as oral sex. Most infected people show no signs of infection, and can pass the viruses onto someone else even years after contracting HPV.
How do I know if I have HPV?
Most people never develop any symptoms from HPV, while some will develop genital warts. So there’s usually no clear sign of whether you have HPV without a screening.
In order to screen for genital HPV, a Pep test is the best way to go about it. Your doctor will take a swipe of cells from your cervix to check if they’re abnormal. Getting regular screenings is the best way to prevent cervical cancer.
There is no approved screening for oral HPV as of now.
If I have HPV, can I treat it?
While there is no treatment for HPV itself, there are treatment options for the problems that arise due to HPV, such as genital warts and certain types of cancer. If you suspect you have any of these medical issues, talk to your doctor.
How can I prevent HPV?
For those who aren’t sexually active yet
Get a HPV vaccination. There are two types of vaccines (Cervarix and Gardasil) that are approved for HPV vaccination (usually administered in three shots over a six-month period, although a new study has shown that one dose may be enough).
Both males and females should get vaccinated against HPV when they are 11 to 13 years old. If you’ve missed the vaccination at that age, you can still do it up till you’re 21 (for the guys), and up till you’re 26 (for the girls). This is because the vaccines were tested for their effectiveness only up to that age.
Those born in 1993 to 1995 are eligible for free HPV vaccination at selected government clinic in Malaysia. Not born in those years? Most clinics and hospitals do it from between RM199 to RM300.
Of course, there may be side effects involved when it comes to HPV vaccination, so speak to a medical professional before taking the jab.
For the sexually active
- Use condoms and make sure you use them right. However, HPV can still infect parts that aren’t protected by the condom, so this isn’t the best protection you can get.
- Be in a committed monogamous relationship where you and your partner only have sex with each other. The less sexual partners you have, the less chances of you getting exposed to HPV.
- Go for regular check-ups. Pap smears help detect the first signs of cervical cancer, when it is in a treatable condition. Getting tested regularly may just save your life.
Because HPV is so common, it’s best to get yourself checked-up regularly. Spread the awareness so girls and boys know they can get a vaccination against HPV, and the older folks know they might be at risk for certain kinds of cancer.
Have you gotten your HPV vaccine? How was the process? Let us know in the comments below!