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Lifestyle

August 2, 2013

Dr. Prusak: What women should know about HPV

When I graduated from my surgical fellowship, I had the misconception that because I was trained to do the fancy, lifesaving procedures like on “Grey’s Anatomy,” that it was what I would be doing in my practice. What I found was that gynecology is not like the sexy brain surgeries performed by “Dr. McDreamy,” but it is about helping women with their everyday sexual and gynecologic questions, problems, desires and concerns.

I hear similar questions from my patients every day, ranging from: Why do I have pain with sex? Am I already going through menopause? I just found out I am Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) positive, did my boyfriend cheat on me? You’re not alone. To encourage others to speak up, I’m sharing and answering some of the common misperceptions women have, starting with an issue that continues to spark national debate — HPV.

I recently found out that I tested positive for HPV. What does this mean?

HPV is one of the most common reasons women come to see me in the office. It is true that HPV is a sexually transmitted virus, not a sexually transmitted disease. It is acquired through skin to skin sexual contact. It can be transmitted from man to woman or woman to woman. Like any virus, it can lay in a dormant “sleeping” state for many years. At any point in a woman’s life — and especially during stress — the virus can reactivate and a woman can test positive for HPV. A positive HPV test means at some point a woman acquired the virus — and it could be from her very first sexual encounter right up until her most recent; therefore, making it impossible to pinpoint the exact person who’s responsible.

I have an abnormal pap with a positive HPV test. I’m extremely worried that I may have cervical cancer. What should I do?

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