- Medically reviewed by Dr. Andrea Pinto on 10 December 2021
Does HPV go away? What strains should you be most worried about?
Human papillomavirus, or HPV as it is commonly known is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about HPV.
Does HPV go away?
HPV does go away on its own in the majority of cases according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, when HPV does not go away, it may lead to serious health complications which is why it is so important to regularly get checked for HPV from the age of 25. It’s impossible to predict who will be able to clear the virus on their own, and who will develop complications from the infection.
Undiagnosed and untreated HPV may lead to genital warts and in some cases, even cancer.
Genital warts usually appear in small clusters or bumps around the genital area. Often, HPV is symptomless which is why it is even more important to get screened on a regular basis.
Human papillomaviruses describes a very common group of viruses which can affect the skin, many times. HPV may affect the mouth, throat or genital area.
HPV can be transmitted even without penetrative sex. HPV may be spread via skin-to-skin contact of the genital area, as well as vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
Cervical cancer testing (screening) should begin from the age of 25 to 65, every five years according to the American Cancer Society.
Do you have HPV virus forever?
No, in the majority of cases, you will not have HPV forever. Most cases of HPV last 1-2 years and the body generally clears the virus itself.
In 1% of women, the infection will not clear itself according to McGill.
There are two types of tests for HPV.
A HPV test
This test is conducted as well on cells from your cervix. The test recognizes the presence of high-risk forms of HPV in the DNA which can lead to genital cancers. Normally is recommended in addition to the Pap test, specially form women +30 years old.
A Pap smear
A sample of cells is collected from the cervix or vagina and send to the laboratory for analysis. In this case, this type of test can be performed at the gynecologist consulting room or at the privacy of your home. This test looks for precancerous and cancerous abnormalities in your cells.
Read: HPV - Everything you need to know
- Genital warts: These generally appear in the genital area as flat lesions, tiny protrusions, or small cauliflower-like bumps. In the case of women, most locate in the vulva, but can also occur near the anus, as well as in the cervix or vagina.
- Plantar warts: Plantar warts usually appear on the balls of the feet causing discomfort. Common skin warts can also affect other parts of the body, but they’re not caused by the same HPV strains that cause genital warts or cancer.
- Cancer: Different types of cancer are caused by HPV, in the case of cervical cancer, at least 91% are caused by HPV. Other types of cancers in the genital area or nearby are alco caused in their majority by HPV, as it is the case with cancer in the vagina (75%), vulva (69%), penis (63%), anus (91%) and oropharynx (89%) with an estimated total of 36,000 cases per year.
Read: HPV symptoms in men
Can you still be sexually active with HPV?
It depends! HPV is very easily spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact, therefore it is not always possible to protect yourself and your partner even if you are using a condom.
The only way to drastically lower the risk of transmission between you and your partner is to avoid any and all sexual contact but obviously this is difficult. The best step you can take to protect you and your partner is to have open and honest conversations with each-other and with your doctor.
If you or your partner has a high-risk strain, you may need to further discuss your options with your doctor. It’s important to treat the infection and monitor it closely, regardless of whether you have an active sex life in the present or not.
As Healthline summarizes:
“If the two of you remain in a monogamous relationship, you may share the virus back and forth until it goes dormant. At this point, your bodies may have built a natural immunity to it. You and your partner may still need routine exams to check for any possible complications.”
Should I be worried if I have HPV?
HPV is a very common STD, and in most cases, it won’t cause any serious health issues, so you shouldn’t worry excessively. However, every case is unique so it’s important to speak with your doctor about your specific case.
If you have HPV, there’s a very good chance it won’t be cause serious health complications.
More than likely, your immune system will attack the virus and it should be gone within two years. Of the millions of cases of HPV diagnosed every year, only a small number become cancer. Most of those cases are cervical cancer.
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- Genital HPV Infection - Fact Sheet - cdc.gov
- The American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Prevention and Early Detection of Cervical Cancer - cancer.org
- HPV - Everything You Need to Know - stdwatch.com
- HPV symptoms in men - stdwatch.com
- What does an HPV diagnosis mean for my relationship - healthline.com