Being diagnosed with human papillomavirus (HPV) raises many questions about your future: How did this happen? Will it clear up on its own? Will I develop cervical cancer? Can I still have children?
While those first three questions can’t be answered, the fourth can luckily be answered with a resounding ‘yes.’ An HPV diagnosis in and of itself will not hamper your ability to have a baby – a good thing considering up to 75 percent of men and women of reproductive age are thought to be infected with the virus.
But while 90 percent of HPV infections clear up on their own within two years, it’s important to keep a watchful eye on the situation to make sure the infection doesn’t cause changes in the cells of the cervix. These changed cells are referred to as precancerous because they could progress to cancerous cells if left untreated. Mild changes to cervix cells can often just be watched, but more severe changes need to be addressed, most likely through one of the following procedures:
- Cone biopsy – removing a portion of the cervix
- Cryosurgery – Freezing and destroying abnormal tissue
- Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) – removing cells via an electrically charged wire loop
Undergoing one of the above procedures could impact your ability to have a baby. This is because removing cervical cells can affect the production of cervical mucus, which helps to carry sperm into the reproductive tract. Additionally, depending on how much tissue is removed, the cervix could become weakened, increasing your chance of having a miscarriage.
Another way in which HPV could affect your chances of having a baby is if precancerous cells are not treated and develop into cervical cancer. In this situation, a hysterectomy may be necessary, making any future pregnancies impossible.
The important thing is to understand the potential impact of HPV on pregnancy and keep abreast of your gynecological health through regular Pap smears. This is your best defense against cervical cancer and the threat it poses to reproduction.