HPV Myth: Only women can get it.
Truth: HPV is a very common virus among both women and men. An estimated 80% of sexually active people will contract it at some point in their lives. Although most HPV infections go away on their own, infections that don’t go away (persist) can cause genital warts and several types of cancer. This includes cervical cancer, penile cancer, anal cancer, and oropharyngeal (throat) cancer. It only requires skin-to-skin contact to spread the virus.
HPV Myth: If you have HPV you’ll get cervical cancer.
Truth: In most cases, the virus is harmless and most people have no symptoms. HPV infections typically leave the body naturally within 1 to 2 years and do not cause cancer. Some HPV infections, however, can persist for many years. If left untreated, these infections can lead to cell changes that may progress to cancer. Since signs and symptoms of cervical cancer don’t arise until it has reached a more advanced stage, it is very important to visit your gynecologist for regular screening.
HPV Myth: If you test negative for HPV, you can’t spread it.
Truth: The HPV virus can actually lay dormant (inactive) for years after being contracted from a partner. It can then be given to someone, such as a spouse, without knowing it years later. Because of this, the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends women age 30 to 64 should be tested for HPV every five years in addition to their Pap test every three years. Even if you know your partner has only been with you during your relationship, the HPV test can identify any new occurrences of the virus, even if you and/or your partner tested negative earlier. Staying on top of whether the virus is present allows your gynecologist to be on the lookout for abnormal cells on the cervix or other conditions caused by HPV.
HPV Myth: You can’t get HPV after menopause.
Truth: While there tend to be more women under age 30 diagnosed with HPV infections, this doesn’t mean you’re in the clear if you’ve hit menopause. Researchers have found that women around age 50, which often is about the same time as menopause, can have a reactivation of an old HPV infection. Whether the virus has been newly transmitted or it’s an old infection that is re-surfacing, the effects can be the same. Because of this, cervical cancer screening should be discussed with your gynecologist based on your specific situation which might include Pap and HPV testing after menopause.
HPV Myth: You can skip your Pap test if you got the HPV vaccine.
Truth: Absolutely not. Because there are many versions of the HPV virus, the vaccine does not protect you against all of them. Currently, the vaccines only help prevent the HPV types that cause 70% of cervical cancer. This means women age 21 to 29 should still receive Pap tests every three years. In addition to Pap tests, the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends women age 30 to 64 should be tested for HPV every five years. Women with certain risk factors or women age 65 or older should discuss their individual needs for HPV screening with their primary care physician or gynecologist.
Myth: If I am 30 to 65 years old, Pap testing alone is the best cervical cancer screening method.
Truth: Several national guidelines recommend routine screening with Pap+HPV Together for women over 30 – this combination offers almost 100% cervical disease detection.2,3
Myth: If I have no symptoms, I don’t need to worry about cervical cancer.
Truth: Cervical cancer can be present without any symptoms. In fact, most people infected with HPV – the major cause of cervical cancer – have no symptoms.4 Myth: If I have HPV, I will get cervical cancer. Truth: Most of the time, HPV infections go away on their own without causing any health problems. Some HPV types do not go away and cause cells to change. Left untreated, some infections cause cervical cancer.5
Myth: If I have HPV, my current partner must have given it to me.
Truth: Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV, even if you have had sex with only one person. You can also develop an HPV infection years after you had sex with someone who is infected, making it hard to know who infected you.5
Myth: My Pap tests have been negative recently, so I do not have to worry about testing for a while.
Truth: A normal Pap result means no cell changes were found on your cervix. This is good news. You still need to get Pap tests in the future, however, as it can take decades for cervical cancer to develop. New cell changes can still form on your cervix after a normal result.4
1. Cervical Cancer Today: A National Survey of Attitudes and Behaviors. National Women’s Health Resource Center, Inc. http://www.healthywomen.org/content/article/cervical-cancertoday-national-survey-attitudes-and-behaviors. Published January 2015. Accessed November 2015. 2. Blatt, et al. Comparison of cervical cancer screening results among 256,648 women in multiple clinical practices. 2015;123(5):282-8. Doi:10.1002/cncy.21544. (Study included ThinPrep®, SurePath, Hybrid Capture 2 Assay) 3. Saslow D, et al. American Cancer Society, American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology, and American Society for Clinical Pathology screening guidelines for the prevention and early detection of cervical cancer. CA Cancer J Clin. 2012;62(3):147-72. doi:10.3322/caac.21139. 4. CDC. Genital HPV Infection - CDC Fact Sheet. http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/hpv-factsheet-march-2014-press.pdf. Published 2014. Accessed August 24, 2015. 5. Saslow, et al. American Cancer Society, American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology, and American Society for Clinical Pathology Screening Guidelines for the Prevention and Early Detection of Cervical Cancer. Am J Clin Pathol. 2012;137:516-42. doi:10.1309/AJCPTGD94EVRSJCG. 6. American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2014. http://www.cancer.org/research/cancerfactsstatistics/cancerfactsfigures2014/. Published 2014. Accessed November 2015. 7. Doorbar J. Molecular biology of human papillomavirus infection and cervical cancer. Clin Sci (Lond). 2006;110(5):525-41. doi:10.1042/ CS20050369. 8. CDC. Making Sense of Your Pap & HPV Test Results. http://www.cdc.gov/std/ hpv/pap/. Updated August 10, 2015. Accessed November 2015. 9. de Sanjose, et al. Human papillomavirus genotype attribution in invasive cervical cancer: a retrospective cross-sectional worldwide study. Lancet Oncol. 2010;11(11):1048-56. doi:10.1016/S1470-2045(10)70230-8