The human papillomavirus (HPV) affects approximately 79 million Americans and is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the country. Despite the prevalence of HPV, there are many misconceptions out there about what it is, who gets it, and what it means to have a diagnosis. Here are some common myths about HPV:
Myth #1 – Only women get HPV.
Fact – Men also get HPV. Most sexually active women and men will have at least one HPV infection at some time in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Anyone who is sexually active can contract HPV, even if they’ve only had one other sexual partner.
Myth #2 – All HPV strains cause cancer.
Fact – HPV can cause cervical, anal, vaginal, vulvar, and penile cancers. But not all HPV strains have the ability to cause cancer. Low-risk strains of HPV (the ones that don’t cause cancer, but do cause skin lesions) can cause genital or anal warts. Even then it can take years to decades for cancer to develop after a person contracts HPV, according to the CDC.
Myth #3 – You won’t get HPV if you don’t have sex.
Fact – HPV can be spread through skin-to-skin vaginal, anal, or oral sex. If there’s skin-to-skin contact, you can still contract the virus, even if you use a condom.
Myth #4 – Men can get HPV screening.
Fact – Unfortunately, there are no FDA-approved tests to screen for HPV in men.
Myth #5 – Treatment options are available.
Fact – While medical professionals can treat genital warts and precancerous lesions that are caused by HPV infections, there is not a treatment available for the actual virus.
Myth #6 – HPV always comes with symptoms.
Fact – Actually, most people with HPV don’t develop any symptoms. Even though there are a number of potential health issues associated with HPV, such as certain types of cancer and genital warts, most people don’t end up with health issues from an infection of HPV. In 90 percent of HPV cases, a person’s immune system combats the infection within two years, according to the CDC.
Myth #7 – You don’t need Pap tests if you received the HPV vaccine.
Fact – you still need to get regular Pap smears to screen for cervical cancer, even if you received the HPV vaccine. The two available vaccines protect against only two high risk HPV strains (16 and 18) that cause cancer. Also, the vaccine is a preventive measure — it won’t help those who are already infected, which is why it’s recommended for people in their twenties or younger.