Did you know? According to the Singapore Cancer Society (SCS), 80 per cent of all adults will be affected by the human papillomavirus, or HPV for short. It’s so common, that you’re apparently more likely to get HPV than you are to lose a mobile phone.
Myth 1: HPV is only transmitted via sexual intercourse
While HPV is sexually transmitted, sexual intercourse is only one of the ways HPV is transmitted. The virus can also spread through very close skin-to-skin contact, such as fondling and petting.
Myth 2: HPV always leads to cervical cancer
In most cases, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. But when HPV does not, some persistent strains can lead to cancers and related diseases, including cervical cancer, vaginal and vulvar cancers in females, and anal cancer and genital warts in both males and females. So it is important that women, and men, take steps to protect themselves against HPV and its related diseases through vaccination and screening.
Myth 3: HPV only affects younger women, so there's no point getting concerned if I'm in my 30s or 40s
While women are most likely to be infected by HPV between the ages of 20 to 24 years old, anyone who is sexually active can get HPV, regardless of age. In Singapore, one in four women in this age group is infected. As such, while the HPV vaccine is currently recommended for women aged 9 to 26 years old in Singapore, women in their 30s or 40s should speak to their doctor to see if they will benefit from the vaccine.
It is also recommended that sexually active women above the age of 25 go for regular cervical cancer screenings – either pap smear or HPV DNA testing to catch HPV-related diseases early.
Myth 4: Only people who sleep around a lot are susceptible to HPV
As long as you are sexually active, you are at risk of contracting HPV. Those in long-term, monogamous relationships are still at risk, and even if you and your partner are each other’s first sexual partner, there is a risk. The reason is that although HPV is sexually transmitted, it need not be transmitted through sexual intercourse only. You can also acquire the infection through very close skin-to skin contact, so fondling and petting can potentially spread the virus.
Myth 5: HPV only affects women
Men can also get HPV. It is estimated that around 80 per cent of women and men who are sexually active will be infected with the virus in their lifetime. Persistent HPV infections can also lead to anal cancer and genital warts in men so it is important that men consider vaccination to protect themselves against the virus.
How will I know if I have HPV?
There are no signs or symptoms to indicate if one has HPV infection except for genital warts. Genital warts are caused by low risk HPV subtypes. Cervical cancers and the less common vulva, vagina, anal cancers are caused but the high risk HPV subtypes in which symptoms may only develop up to 10 years after infection, so it can be hard to know when you were first infected.
Today, women can find out if they have HPV when they go for a HPV test. This test can be done on its own or in conjunction with pap smear screening once every three to five years.
How can women protect themselves from getting HPV?
You can do a few things to lower your chances of getting HPV:
1. Get Vaccinated: The HPV vaccine is safe and effective. It can protect against some diseases (including cancers) caused by HPV. In Singapore there are three vaccines available, with the latest vaccine helping to provide protection against nine HPV strains and 95 per cent of cervical cancer cases. The vaccine is recommended for women aged 9 to 26 years old in Singapore but women above this age should still speak to their doctor about the vaccine.
2. Get screened for cervical cancer: Routine screening for women above the age of 25 should go for regular check-ups, such as Pap smear test or HPV DNA test, to help to detect HPV early and avoid cervical cancer.
Find out more about HPV and cervical cancer here.