Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States and the cause of most cervical cancers. A diagnosis comes with all sorts of questions and fears, but perhaps none quite as concerning as what it means for your fertility. Could your sexual past affect your future ability to have children?
The answer: Usually not. According to the CDC, HPV typically goes away with no treatment and doesn’t cause any health problems, infertility included. Nearly all sexually active men and women have it at some point in their lives — but most people never know they have it unless they develop genital warts or get an abnormal pap smear report.
There are some studies that have shown that an HPV infection may lead to less success with in-vitro fertilization and others that have found that male sperm infected with HPV could possibly cause infertility. However, there are also studies that contradict these findings and no conclusive evidence overall. In most cases, HPV will have no symptoms nor any effect on fertility or a pregnancy.
Pregnancy with HPV
As for once you get pregnant, typically HPV won’t affect an unborn child. While you should always share with your doctor if you know you have HPV, it won’t usually alter your treatment in any way.
One exception may be if you have genital warts, which can sometimes be aggravated by pregnancy hormones. Typically doctors will opt to treat them after pregnancy unless they become so large they pose an obstruction threat in the birth canal, in which case they may be removed.
While mothers can pass HPV on to their children, which may result in the child developing warts, it’s rare and generally isn’t a threat to the child. As with adults, typically, it will resolve on its own or the child can be treated easily.
In some cases, HPV can cause cancer, including cervical cancer, which does come with some fertility concerns. (Note: the strains of HPV that cause genital warts are different from those that cause cervical cancer.)
When cancerous or precancerous cells are found during a Pap smear that a doctor deems necessary to remove, there are several treatment methods that can affect fertility and future pregnancies such as radiation, a hysterectomy or removal of the ovaries.
If cervical cancer is detected during a pregnancy, doctors will evaluate treatment based on the stage of the pregnancy as well as the stage of the disease. In many cases, treatment will be delayed until after the baby is born.
HPV Prevention and Treatment
The good news is HPV can be prevented or treated early. The CDC recommends regular Pap smears, which can detect pre-cancerous cells at a stage where they can be easily treated. Also, HPV vaccines, which offer protection from the strains of HPV most likely to cause cancer, are recommended for boys and girls beginning at age 11-12.
The bottom line: In most cases HPV won’t affect your fertility, but it’s something to be aware of and discuss with your doctor.
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