You’ve Been Diagnosed with HPV. Now What?

Written by yvonnethornton on December 10th, 2012

Have you gotten your HPV vaccination yet? If not, go get one now. HPV, or the human papillomavirus, is the single most common cause of cervical cancer in women. In many cases, women don’t even realize that they have HPV. For that reason, it’s important that every sexually active person is vaccinated because it is technically an STD (sexually transmitted disease) transmitted through intercourse. The HPV vaccination is simple, especially compared with the possible consequences of cancer treatment without it.  As stated in a prior blog in 2009, the benefits of being vaccinated against HPV far outweigh the small potential dangers.  If you are between 9 and 26, you should seriously consider getting the vaccination.

If you’ve been diagnosed with HPV, you’re probably wondering what happens next. It is too late to get vaccinated at this point, but it’s important that you understand how high your risk for getting cancer is. Though HPV (depending on its type) causes cancer in many instances, it is not to say that you’ll get it for certain. Many high-risk HPV infections simply go away on their own without leaving anything more than a few cell abnormalities. This spontaneous clearance of the virus usually occurs in women who are younger than 30 years of age.  It’s also important that you understand ways to decrease your risk once you’re diagnosed with HPV. Smoking and poor oral hygiene have both been linked to increase cancer risk following an HPV diagnosis, so it’s important that you take proper preventative measures.

In some ways, your HPV diagnosis is a perfect way for your doctors to more closely monitor your risk of developing cervical cancer. Many women who have cervical cancer can go years without even knowing that the cells are developing. It is a silent progression from a precancerous lesion to full-blown cervical cancer.  After your HPV diagnosis, doctors will know to check for cervical and anal cancer regularly. If they notice a tumor, they can take action quickly, which is the best way for you to beat it. It can take up to twenty years for cancer cells to develop after an initial HPV infection, so regular screening is necessary. Even if a tumor forms, you still have very good chance that it is not even cancerous.

You might be devastated when you first learn that you’ve contracted HPV. However, depending your age, it may resolve or it may persist.  If it does persist, then it certainly increases your risk for cervical cancer.  However, it does not necessarily mean that you will get it for sure. Stay on top of your regular screenings and stay positive.

Read more about HPV and cervical cancer in my newly updated health book, INSIDE INFORMATION FOR WOMEN.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.



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