My girlfriend was diagnosed with HPV 31 recently through a pap smear test. She is extremely concerned that it would lead to cervical cancer and is freaking out. I'm not sure if I already have HPV and passed it on to her, or she had acquired this from previous patners. My questions are:
1. What is HPV 31? How is this different from HPV 16 and 18?
2. What is the likelihood that a woman with HPV 31 will develop cervical cancer? I understand strains 16 and 18 cause about 70% of cervical cancer in the US.
3. Will HPV 31 affect future pregnancy? Will the baby catch HPV 31?
4. Should we have protected sex because of HPV 31?
Your sex partner has been told she has HPV and this concerns you. It should not. There are over 100 different types of HPV. The types are distinguished from one another on the basis of their DNA sequence. For better or worse, at present HPV is a "fact of life" and most people have it or will have it at some point in the future. Despite this fact, only a tiny minority of persons with HPV get the consequences of infection (primarily women and primarily cancer and pre-cancerous lesions). HPV is the most commonly acquired STD. Over 85% of sexually active women will have HPV infection at some time in their lives. The figure for men is less well studied but similar. In some HPV will cause genital warts, in others it will not cause warts but may lead to changes in PAP smears. In nearly everyone who gets HPV, warts or otherwise, the infections will resolve by themselves without therapy in 8-24 months. In a very small minority of women, HPV infection can persist and lead to the pre-cancerous lesions that PAP smears detect and which can then be treated. For men there is far less risk of any sort.
You do not mention whether or not your GF had PAP smear abnormalities or not or if she was just tested for HPV. The reason I ask is that because HPV is so very, very common, routine testing for HPV is not recommended because it is usually found and, when it is, it causes disproportionate concerns and sometimes leads to un-needed therapy for an infection that is likely to go away by itself. Finally, there is no way of knowing who gave the infection to the other. Likely each of you has it or has had it recently. With this as background, let's address your questions:
1. See above. HPV 31 is another HPV type. There is a statistical association of HPV 31 with PAP smear abnormalities and cervical cancer but very, very few persons with HPV 31 will experience these consequences (PAP smear changes or cancer). HPV causes about 3-4% of cervical cancer. In most women the infection will go away by itself without consequence.
2. Very, very low. Lower than 2-3%. These consequences can be avoided with regular PAP smear follow-ups which will allow intervention and preventative care, if needed.
4. In general we do not recommend condoms for prevention of HPV transmission between partners. You likely already have it and it will go away by itself. In monogamous partners condoms offer little benefit..
For additional information on this most common of STDs, I would suggest search for other HPV- and wart-related Q&A on this site, as well seeking addition information on sites such as the American Social health Association web-site (disclosure, Dr. Handsfield and I are both on the Board of ASHA)..
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