At Women’s Healthcare of Morgantown, we strive to educate the Morgantown community about topics that are vital to their well-being. Cervical health is one of those topics.

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. Read on to learn how to protect yourself from Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer.

WHAT IS HPV?

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). 79 million Americans have HPV — 75-80% of active women and men will get HPV at some point in their lives.

There are many different types of HPV. Some types can cause cancer and genital warts. The good news is that there are vaccines that can prevent these problems from happening.

RISK FACTORS OF HPV

You can get HPV by having intercourse with someone who has the infection. It’s important to know that HPV can be transmitted even when an infected person has no signs or symptoms. Unfortunately, you can develop symptoms years after you have intercourse with someone who has HPV. This makes it extremely difficult to know when you first became infected.

Usually, HPV goes away on its own. But, when it does not clear up, it can cause genital warts and cancer.

Genital warts typically show up as a small bump or group of bumps in the genital region. They can be either small or large, raised or flat and/or shaped like cauliflower.

HPV can also cause cervical cancer and/or cancer of the vulva, penis, anus or the back of the throat. Cancer can take years to develop after a person gets HPV. The types of HPV that cause genital warts are not the same types of HPV that cause cancers.

CAN I PREVENT HPV?

There are a few things you can do to lower your chances of contracting HPV.

  1. Get vaccinated. The HPV vaccine can protect against cancers and genital warts caused by HPV.
  2. Get regular screenings for cervical cancer. For women, this includes Pap tests.
  3. If you are sexually active, use condoms every time you have sex. Condoms will lower your chances of getting HPV, but HPV can still infect areas not covered by a condom, so it’s important to have open, honest communication with your sexual partner.

PAP TEST

For women, a Pap test is the most common test for early detection of cervical cancer. Women should start receiving Pap tests at the age of 21. If there are no abnormal results, your physician will perform Pap tests every three years.

Pap tests find pre-cancerous changes in the cells of the cervix. During the exam, a speculum is gently inserted to open the vagina, which allows the healthcare provider to view the cervix and upper vagina. From there, the healthcare provider will use a brush to collect cells. These cells are then sent to a lab where medical professionals check them under a microscope.

After the age of 30, your physician may recommend an HPV test along with a Pap test.

HPV TEST

An HPV test can find any of the high-risk types of HPV that are most commonly found in cervical cancer. Your physician will perform the HPV test at the same time as the Pap test by using a small brush to collect cervical cells, which are also sent to a lab.

High-risk HPV types 16 and 18 are responsible for roughly 70% of cervical cancers worldwide, which is why it is so crucial to know if a woman has these types of HPV.

PREPARING FOR A PAP TEST/HPV TEST

  • Try to schedule your appointment when you do not expect to be on your menstrual period.
  • Avoid sexual intercourse for at least 48 hours before the test.
  • Do not douche 48 hours before the test.
  • Do not use tampons or vaginal creams/medications for 48 hours before the test.

If results are abnormal, you will need extra testing, which can include:

  • Colposcopy
  • Cervical Biopsy
  • Colposcopic Biopsy
  • Endocervical Curettage
  • Cone Biopsy
  • LEEP (Loop Electro-Surgical Excision Procedure)

VACCINATION FOR HPV: GARDASIL 9

Gardasil 9 is the only vaccine that helps protect against the nine types of HPV that are responsible for the majority of HPV-related cancers and diseases (Types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58).

The CDC recommends getting vaccinated before exposure to the virus. They recommend the HPV vaccination for boys and girls at age 11 or 12.

Gardasil 9 has multiple doses. There are two dosing schedules depending on the child’s age. You can view the dosing schedule here.

Gardasil 9 does not prevent all types of cervical cancer, so it’s important for women to continue routine cervical cancer screenings.

SYMPTOMS OF HPV

Most people with HPV don’t have any symptoms, and unfortunately, most people who have high-risk types of HPV never show any signs until it’s already caused serious health problems. That is why regular check-ups are so important. Often, cervical cancer can be prevented by finding abnormal cells changes, which can be found during Pap tests and HPV tests.

But, if the high-risk HPV types become cancer, there may be some symptoms:

  • Cervical Cancer: Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge
  • Penile Cancer: Changes in color or thickness of the skin of the penis or a painful sore
  • Anal Cancer: Anal bleeding, pain, itching or discharge or changes in bowel habits
  • Vulvar Cancer: Changes in color or thickness of the skin of the vulva. There may be chronic pain, itching or a lump.
  • Throat Cancer: May cause a sore throat, ear pain that doesn’t go away, constant coughing, pain swallowing or breathing, weight loss or a lump or mass in the neck.

WOMEN’S HEALTHCARE OF MOGANTOWN | CERVICAL HEALTH AWARENESS

Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers. We follow the most up-to-date guidelines for pap smears and colposcopy. We also offer the HPV vaccine, which has become a highly effective way of reducing the chance you will develop abnormal pap smears, which may lead to cervical cancer.

We dedicate our time to improving the health of women in Morgantown and surrounding areas by providing comprehensive services through every stage of your life. Become a part of the Women’s Healthcare of Morgantown family today.

If you want more information about HPV, your cervical health or the Gardasil 9 vaccination, please don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment for an exam with one of our physicians, who have more than 25 years of combined experience.