Eighty percent of sexually active adults will have been infected with HPV before the age of 50, which makes it the most commonly transmitted sexually transmitted infection in the US. However, most people who have HPV don’t know they have it, because they do not develop genital warts or other manifestations of HPV that they can identify.
This virus is exchanged via skin-to-skin contact. Therefore, even though the virus is most often transmitted via vaginal or anal sex, it can also be contracted through genital-to-genital contact and through oral sex as well. Condoms are protective, but not 100% protective because they do not protect the entire genital region.
Though there are over 100 strains of HPV, only 15 of them (16, 18, 31, 33, 35, 39, 45, 51, 52, 56, 58, 59, 68, 73, and 82) have been labeled as “high-risk” by the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology (ASCCP) because they cause cancer. Type 16 is the most common type, found in 50% of cervical cancers. Types 16 and 18 together cause 70% of cervical cancers.
Keep in mind that of those infected with HPV, 50% of them will fortunately clear the virus within 8 months, 90% of them within 2 years.
Most people who get HPV never know they have it, because they do not develop genital warts or other manifestations of HPV that they can identify. However, some do. Many doctors describe genital warts to be raised bumps in the genital or anal region that sometimes go unnoticed.
However, the two types of HPV that have been most commonly blamed to cause genital warts (types 6 and 11) are not in the high-risk category for cancer. One of the HPV vaccines, Gardasil, protects against HPV types 6 and 11. It also protects against types 16 and 18, the two types of HPV that causes 70% of cervical cancers.
Either way, all women should talk with their gynecologist about getting an HPV test in addition to getting a pap exam. Experts recommend women get both procedures at regular intervals past the age of 30.
Of those infected with HPV, 50% of them will fortunately clear the virus within 8 months, 90% of them within 2 years. However, some will retain the virus and not develop signs of cancer for many years. The duration of the infection depends on many factors, including the type of HPV virus. Studies have shown that higher-risk HPV types tend to last longer than lower-risk types.
HPV leads to cancer by altering your cells’ DNA in a way that causes them to divide excessively. The progression to cancer should take years because the cells need time to accumulate enough mutations from the virus in order to become cancerous. Traditionally, it’s been thought to take about 15 years, but there have been many reports of cancers occurring faster.
You may connect HPV with cervical cancer; 88% of all HPV-associated cancers are cervical cancer, according to HPV expert Dr. Diane Harper. However, it causes other dangerous cancers, including anal cancer, penile cancer, vaginal cancer, and oral cancer. In fact, HPV is now the leading cause of oral cancer – after smoking and sun exposure. This type of cancer typically comes from contracting the virus through oral sex.