Questions about HPV, cervical cancer, HPV transmission and HPV tests

Question:
I was doing some reading on your site, regarding HPV. I was doing the reading, because, it has come to my attention, that my son had sex with a woman, who has told me she definately has HPV, and it is one of the ones, that can cause cervical cancer. Her pap test revealed this, and she is under a doctors care for the cervical cancer. My questions to you are: should I inform my son? SHould he be concerned that he has had sex with someone who definately has HPV, and she is also being treated for cervical cancer, that she got from HPV? Can he give this (cancer causing type) virus to his present girlfriend? AM i correct, in assumming, that over time this HPV will clear itself up (if it is not one of the kinds that causes cervical cancer)? If he passes this HPV along to his girlfriend, what are the chances she will get the cervical cancer? Should he be speaking to his girlfriend about this, and make sure she gets a regular pap test for it? I believe he had sex with the HPV infected women, up to a year ago. I think if he had symptoms, (warts etc) he would have seen a doctor, and had them treated. I am concerned, that he may have picked up the HPV, and given it to his present girlfriend, and the HPV he gave her, has caused cervical cancer in a women he previously slept with! Please help! I would appreciate some help on what advice I should give my son! thank you!

(Read my answer after the jump)

Answer:
Thank you for your questions. I can understand your concern for your son’s health and for the health of the women he had sex with both in the past and presently. There are a few things that you should know about the human papillomavirus (HPV) that might help you figure out what to do.

First, there are more than 100 strains of HPV. Some are these have been shown to increase a risk of a woman getting cervical cancer, vulvar cancer or vaginal cancer or to increase a man’s risk of getting penile cancer. Other strains are related to warts. Some strains don’t necessarily cause any noticeable effects. The HPV strains that may increase a person’s risk of cancer are simply that – they "may" increase the risk of cancer, but they will not necessarily cause it. Millions of women and men get these so-called "high risk" strains of HPV and yet they never go on to develop cancer. I am wondering if perhaps you may have misunderstood what your son’s former partner told you – are you certain that she has cervical cancer itself (which tends to take years to develop)? Or do you think she may have told you that she has a high risk strain of HPV that is related to cervical cancer? Those are two very different issues. Cervical cancer is rare; however, having a high risk strain of HPV is much more common among women and men.

Second, just because your son’s former partner has HPV does not mean that she gave it to him. He may have been the one to give her the HPV! Since we cannot test men for HPV, most men don’t know that that even have it and so they pass it to women without realizing it.

Third, condoms cannot prevent HPV infection. This is because HPV Is transmitted through skin contact and condoms cannot cover all of a person’s genital skin. Even though you didn’t specifically ask how HPV can be transmitted or if condoms can prevent HPV, I wanted to address this since it is a common question and may be something that you, your son, his girlfriend or his former partner have wondered about.

Fourth (thanks for sticking through this lengthy reply!!), you asked if HPV usually clears itself over time. Yes, it usually does. However, women who have had HPV are best advised to stick to any follow-up care recommended by one’s healthcare provider. For example, women who have had abnormal Pap test results (which usually means that a woman has HPV) are often asked by their healthcare provider to come in for a colposcopy which is a medical procedure that allows the doctor or nurse to better view the cervix and possibly to take one or more biopsies of the cervix to test how severe the cervical changes may be. It is estimated that as many as 60 to 80% of sexually active adults have or have had HPV infection – again, for most women and men, the changes are not severe. For example, about 85% of women who have an abnormal Pap test result will go back to having normal test results within a year or two. For men, we have less information about how quickly their infection clears up since there is not good HPV testing available for men.

Fifth, you are correct that if your son has HPV that he can transmitted it to his current girlfriend if they have had vaginal sex, anal sex or rubbed their genitals together without clothes on (dry sex). All women who are sexually active are best advised to get regular annual gyn exams, or as often as one’s doctor recommends. Your son’s girlfriend should check in with her healthcare provider if she has any questions about her HPV risk. Remember: even if she does have HPV, it does not mean that she will get cervical cancer.

Sixth, you mentioned that if your son had warts he probably would have seen a doctor about them. A few issues are relevant here – first, warts are not always visible. Sometimes they are so tiny that one cannot see them with the naked eye. Also, not all women or men think that their warts are really warts – sometimes they mistakenly think they are pimples or razor burn. And also, the strain that his former partner had may not have been one that caused warts.

As for whether or not you should tell your son about his former partner’s HPV status, that is a personal decision. If his former partner has confided in you, perhaps you can encourage her (strongly) to talk to your son about her HPV status. If not, then you may need to decide whether you want to disclose that to your son or in other ways encourage him and his current girlfriend to get regular testing for sexually transmissible infections (STI) and, for her, annual gyn exams that include Pap tests. I hope this is helpful.

If you have a question about sexuality or relationships, please email me at drdebby@mysexprofessor.com

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at www.sexualhealth.indiana.edu.

  • JJ

    I too was doing some reading on your site and a few questionable concerns came to my mind. The first is The HPV strain that causes cervical cancer can it be found in the throat or mouth? Is this also a away of tranmission? Also will it cause cancer in the mouth? These are the questions I feel no one is asking or answering. there waas a segment on good morning America where a woman told her story about her having HPV in the mouth. I missed most of this segment and boy am I sorry.It has left me with so many questions about oral sex.

  • JJ

    I too was doing some reading on your site and a few questionable concerns came to my mind. The first is The HPV strain that causes cervical cancer can it be found in the throat or mouth? Is this also a away of tranmission? Also will it cause cancer in the mouth? These are the questions I feel no one is asking or answering. there waas a segment on good morning America where a woman told her story about her having HPV in the mouth. I missed most of this segment and boy am I sorry.It has left me with so many questions about oral sex.

  • ms. c

    I had sex with people who did not had hpv, now i’m married and leading happy life with my husband and he also dont have hpv. just worried that is there any chance of getting cervical cancer. recently i under went pelvic scan, hormonal test, urinary tract scan, all are normal. still i’m 26yrs old. pls let me know am i in risk of getting cervical cancer, it would be a great help.

  • ms. c

    I had sex with people who did not had hpv, now i’m married and leading happy life with my husband and he also dont have hpv. just worried that is there any chance of getting cervical cancer. recently i under went pelvic scan, hormonal test, urinary tract scan, all are normal. still i’m 26yrs old. pls let me know am i in risk of getting cervical cancer, it would be a great help.

  • b

    can you get oral hpv by kissing?

  • b

    can you get oral hpv by kissing?

  • d

    I have tonsilar cancer caused by hpv. I have had one relationship over the past 3 years with a man other than my husband? I did have oral sex with him. Could he have given me hpv which caused my tonsilar cancer in such a short time or would it be more likely that I got it 30 years ago when I was single with several different sex partners? I am 52.

  • d

    I have tonsilar cancer caused by hpv. I have had one relationship over the past 3 years with a man other than my husband? I did have oral sex with him. Could he have given me hpv which caused my tonsilar cancer in such a short time or would it be more likely that I got it 30 years ago when I was single with several different sex partners? I am 52.

  • tdc

    Hello,
    I have aquired HPV by sleeping with my first boyfriend, who apperently did not know he had it and now I have it as well. However this is causing me to restrain from any sexual activities that I may desire with any other boyfriends. My question is, can this be passed on even when you are just a carrier of HPV? I have had it treated and has not shown up in me for about 3 years. Am I still able to pass it on to anyone else?

  • tdc

    Hello,
    I have aquired HPV by sleeping with my first boyfriend, who apperently did not know he had it and now I have it as well. However this is causing me to restrain from any sexual activities that I may desire with any other boyfriends. My question is, can this be passed on even when you are just a carrier of HPV? I have had it treated and has not shown up in me for about 3 years. Am I still able to pass it on to anyone else?

  • http://vigaplusanalysis.info VigaPlus

    Is there a cure for this? If condoms will not prevent it, what are the best ways to do so you can not get infected with HPV?