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A Doctor Answers Reader's Question: How Long to Clear HPV?

DrSugar Answers: When Will I Clear HPV?

DrSugar is in the house and he's answering your health questions.

Dear DrSugar,
I was exposed to HPV (human papillomavirus) in 2006. My test results were positive for HPV, but I had a normal pap smear in 2008. My doc said the first test was a baseline. I returned recently to test again and my results were the same, HPV positive, but a normal pap smear, and I am to be retested again in another six months. Here's my dilemma: it's going on three years since my exposure to HPV, so why hasn't it cleared my system? Also, should I be concerned with an HPV infection in my throat from oral sex?
— One Worried Woman

To see if DrSugar is able to ease this Sugar user's worries,


HPV has received a lot of attention in the last few years and public awareness of the disease has skyrocketed. Recent strides in research have brought more information to light about HPV, and a new HPV vaccine has the potential to prevent 70 percent of cervical cancers. I want to make it clear to you and others that HPV is very common: over half of all sexually active people will contract HPV at some point in their lifetime. Luckily, the infection is not permanent. Recent data suggests that within one year of a positive test, 70 percent of women will clear HPV. Keep in mind that this is from the time of the first positive test, not from the time of exposure. Approximately 90 percent of HPV infections will be cleared in two years, and 95 percent in three years from the initial positive test. So there is a very good chance that your HPV will be cleared sometime in the next few years. In the meantime, it is important to follow up with your doctor every six months. When your body doesn't clear HPV, it means you have have a chronic HPV infection, which unfortunately puts you at higher risk for cervical cancer. If it clears, your risk drops markedly, but there is still some risk so make sure to continue to have an annual exam.

While the connection between HPV and cervical cancer is more established, there is increasing evidence suggesting a relationship between HPV and mouth/throat cancers. A Time article from 2007 gives an interesting review of the topic. Studies suggest that oral sex with multiple partners can lead to an increased risk of throat cancer due to certain strains of HPV. However, there are currently no guidelines or recommendations for doctors to screen for HPV infections of the throat or mouth. The best advice I can give is to always practice safe sex and see your doctor if you have more questions. For more HPV-related information, visit the CDC website.

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DrSugar's posts are for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations. Click here for more details.

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