Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted viruses. While it causes few symptoms on its own, it is linked to several forms of cancer. In fact, the National Cancer Institute reports essentially all cervical cancers are the result of HPV. Mouth and throat cancers and cancer of the penis are also linked to HPV. Protecting yourself is extremely important.
Approximately 75 percent of all sexually active people will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives. Most people show no symptoms. Other experience:
- Genital warts, which are raised, dry, and painless bumps
- Cervical changes, detected by Pap smear and colposcopy
There is no screening test that detects HPV in men. However, if your sexual partner is diagnosed with HPV, it is likely you are infected, too.
The only way to avoid all forms of HPV infection is to abstain from intimate genital contact, including oral sex.
There are now vaccines against the cancer-causing strains of HPV. If you are a man or woman between the ages of 9 and 26, you can protect yourself with the vaccine. If you are older than age 26, talk to the IU Health Center Medical Clinic.
You can get the vaccine at the IU Health Center Immunization Clinic. It is a series of three shots. The HPV vaccine costs $155 (per shot) for any student who has paid the IU Health Fee and $160 (per shot) if you have not. Prices are subject to change. Merck, the vaccine manufacturer, offers their vaccine at no cost to low-income and uninsured patients. To apply, download the Merck Vaccine Patient Assistance Form (.pdf file).
Tips for Safer Sex
Condoms or other latex barriers can also reduce your risk of contracting HPV. Since they do not cover all affected areas, they are not 100% effective.
Limiting your number of lifetime sexual partners can also reduce your risk. A long-term, mutually monogamous relationship is the safest.
There is no cure for HPV, but there are many treatments for genital warts, including freezing or applying chemicals to the warts. Repeated treatments are generally required and can sometimes last several months. They cannot be treated with over-the-counter medications.
Even after warts are gone, you may still be infected with HPV. Warts may return.
Cervical HPV can be monitored through regular Pap smears, colposcopy, and biopsy. Even if you have had the HPV vaccine, you should visit the IU Health Center Women's Clinic every year for an annual check-up. If you have paid the IU Health Fee, your visit is free when you make an appointment in advance.