Your pre-conception reproductive health has a big part in your ability to conceive and carry a baby full-term when you’re ready. This is why health professionals campaign tirelessly for young men and women, between the ages of 9 and 26, to get their HPV vaccine – and to be tested for HPV every few years.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common STD; according to the CDC, “HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get the virus at some point in their lives,” and because HPV is often asymptomatic, it is also one of the least treated STDs.
Unfortunately, a current or historic HPV infection can have negative impacts on fertility, and makes you significantly more susceptible to developing cervical cancer later on.
Protect Your Fertility Health by Learning About HPV
HPV is an umbrella term, referring to a group of viral infections that affect the exterior skin layers on the genitals, as well as the hands and feet. So, while its transmission can occur without sexual intercourse, the large majority of HPV infections are the result of unprotected sexual activity.
While the infection can clear up on its own, and rarely identifies itself via tangible or observable symptoms, it can cause a range of side effects that negative impact fertility for both women and men.
Fertility risks associated with HPV include:
- Tubal blocking or scarring
- Higher rates of miscarriage
- Damage to the cervix via HPV or the treatment to remove affected tissue from the cervix
- Damage to sperm or parts of the male reproductive system (studies show that men with HPV have higher infertility rates)
Should you get tested for HPV?
Currently, the American Cancer Society recommends women between the ages of 20 and 61 be co-tested for cervical cancer (pap smear) and HPV every three to five years, depending on your sexual and medical history. Together, these tests identify any abnormal cells or irregularities indicate further diagnosis and treatment action.
As with all diseases, the sooner either one is diagnosed, the more effective the treatment will be.
What if I have HPV or cervical cancer?
Each case is different; ultimately your physician will recommend the course of treatment that makes the most sense for your diagnosis.
Testing positive for HPV
If you test positive for HPV, and your cervix is unaffected (meaning there is no tissue damage), your doctor may not do anything at all. HPV typically clears up on its own. In the meantime, you must use a condom with sexual partners (who should also be tested) until annual HPV test results are negative.
In some cases, your doctor may recommend testing for specific strains of HPV OR may need to treat the affected cervical tissue via cryotherapy (freezing/removing affected tissue), a cone biopsy to remove part of the cervix, or LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure) which uses an electric current to remove damaged cells.
Testing positive for cervical cancer
If your doctor finds cancerous cells, s/he will discuss the best course of action depending on the severity of the cancer’s growth. In some cases, affected cells are removed and that is the end of it; in other cases, more serious cancer treatment may be required.
Should you require more invasive cancer treatment, such as reproductive surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, it is imperative that you seek assistance in planning your fertility future before treatment commences.
There are several organizations that can help you learn all there is to know about fertility preservation, including LIVESTRONG Fertility and The American Cancer Society. We also recommend scheduling a consultation with a fertility specialist with experience and a good track record when it comes to cancer-related fertility preservation.
Please contact Fertility Center of Dallas if you have or have had HPV and are concerned about your future fertility options, or if you have a cancer diagnosis and want to learn more about fertility preservation prior to beginning treatment.