Other than not having sex, the best ways to prevent HPV-related cancers are getting the HPV vaccine, using condoms every time if you have sex, and avoiding tobacco.
How can I protect myself from cancer caused by HPV?
The only way to be sure that you won’t get HPV is to never have any sexual contact with another person. But most people have sex at some point in their lives.
If you do have sex, there are a couple of things you can do to lower your chances of getting HPV-related cancers.
One of the best ways to help prevent HPV and HPV-related cancers is to get the HPV vaccine. The vaccine protects you from most types of high-risk HPV (the kinds of HPV that can cause cancer). Some vaccine brands also protect you from the kinds of HPV that cause genital warts.
The HPV shots work best if you get them before you ever have sexual contact with another person. But even if you’ve already had sex, you can still talk with your doctor or nurse about whether the HPV vaccine is right for you. Learn more about the HPV vaccine.
Using condoms or internal condoms every time you have vaginal sex or anal sex also helps protect against HPV. For oral sex, you can use condoms or dental dams. Condoms and dental dams don’t work as well to prevent HPV as they do to prevent other STDs, like chlamydia or HIV. And condoms aren’t as good at preventing HPV as the vaccine is, but they definitely lower your chances of getting HPV and HPV-related cancers.
Studies have also shown that smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco can increase your risk for developing HPV-related cancers, especially throat cancer. So steering clear of tobacco is another way to help protect yourself.
How do I know if I have HPV-related cancer?
If you have symptoms, your doctor will usually do a physical exam and/or biopsy to find out if you have throat, anal, penile, vulvar, or vaginal cancer.
There are HPV tests that can find high-risk HPV (the types that can cause cancer) on your cervix. There are also tests that find abnormal cell changes on your cervix that could lead to cervical cancer — called Pap tests. Cell changes caused by high-risk HPV on your cervix can usually be treated BEFORE they become cervical cancer, which is why getting regular checkups is important. Read more about cervical cancer screenings.
There’s no test to find high-risk HPV on other areas of the body — just the cervix. If you receive anal sex regularly, your doctor or nurse may suggest an anal Pap test, but this isn’t recommended for everyone. But scientists are doing lots of research on HPV, so there may be more kinds of HPV testing in the future.
Where can I get more information?
Talk with your doctor or contact your local Planned Parenthood health center if you have more questions about HPV-related cancers.