… I tried to get an appointment with Teen Clinic to get an exam but I was told I had to be 21. I am 18; is there any way around this?
Great question! HPV, or the Human Papillomavirus, is an infection spread through skin to skin contact. It can cause abnormal cell growth, including genital warts and some cancers. While there are more than 100 different types of HPV, about forty affect the genitals. Some studies suggest that as many as three-quarters of people in the United States have been infected with at least one type of HPV! However, in 90% of cases, HPV clears naturally from the body within two years. This is especially true for young people, whose immune systems are usually very strong.
For this reason, the most up-to-date medical guidelines suggest that people get their first pap test at age 21. A pap test is when a doctor takes a sample of cells from the cervix to make sure they are growing normally. (When they are growing abnormally, it is often a sign of HPV.) This is different from a pelvic exam, which is when a doctor physically examines the genital area to make sure it is healthy. During a pelvic exam, a doctor may take samples of fluid to test a person for STIs or other infections. A doctor could also diagnose or treat HPV-caused genital warts during a pelvic exam. At Teen Clinic, you can make an appointment for a pelvic exam. However, you won’t be able to get a pap test because it is not medically necessary at your age.
If a doctor has diagnosed you with HPV, it might be helpful to make an appointment at Teen Clinic to talk to a provider. Teen Clinic is a safe, confidential place where young people can get easy-to-understand information. It’s also helpful to know that HPV spreads through genital to genital contact or genital to mouth contact. While performing oral sex can put you at risk for contracting HPV orally, it is still unknown whether or not HPV can spread from a person’s mouth onto someone else’s genitals. Know that having genital HPV does not automatically mean that you also have oral HPV.
Teen Clinic recommends using condoms and dental dams 100% to reduce the risk of transmitting HPV to others. This will also reduce your risk for contracting other types of HPV! We also recommend receiving the Gardasil vaccine, which can prevent the four most dangerous types of HPV if you do not already have them. (This is low-cost at Teen Clinic!) And remember—the best way to support your immune system in fighting HPV is to get plenty of sleep, drink water, eat nutritious foods, exercise regularly, and manage any stress in your life. Thanks for asking this very important question!