Human papillomavirus (HPV): Human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. The virus has been linked to the development of multiple forms of cancers including anogenital, cervical, head and neck, penile, vaginal and vulvar cancers. Starting at age 21, routine screening for cervical cancer is performed at annual well-woman exams in order to detect changes to cervical cells that are often caused by HPV. After age 30, specific HPV testing is performed in addition to pap smears in order to more accurately detect the presence of high-risk HPV strands. Over 13 strands of HPV are considered “high-risk” in the development of cervical cancer in women. HPV strands 16 & 18 are the leading causes of cervical cancer and over half of the individuals with cervical cancer test position for HPV 16. However, it is important to understand that the presence of HPV, even strands 16 and 18, do not mean an individual will develop cervical cancer. More often than not, HPV infections are transient in nature and resolve in time with the support of healthy immune system functioning. Important things patients can do if they are informed of an abnormal pap smear or positive HPV test is to take a multivitamin, get adequate sleep each night, remain a non-tobacco smoker, and participate in monogamous relationships to limit exposure to different strands of HPV.
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