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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.

Join The Conversation
ella1978 ella1978 8 years
Men can only be tested if they have genital warts. There is a goofy process where they can submerge the unit, but it only tests for something specific. So the basic answer is NO, there is no way to screen men. They also do not know yet if you already have had the virus cervically, if you can even get it orally. If the virus is already in your body, there is a chance that there are antibodies that would fight the same strain in the neck/ throat area. So if you are with a committed partner, and found out that you got his strain cervically, there may be a chance that you won't get it orally. Bella, you are basically right. They say that you "clear it", but all that basically means, is that it is not actively altering your cervical cells. It is still there, and you can never receive the same strain again, but there is little to no chance of a flair up from the same strain.. making it much less likely to get cervical cancer. Number one thing ladies, keep getting your pap every year, and once every couple years, after the age of 30, they will start doing HPV screening. Keep it up, and you will be able to fight off whatever. Those who traditionally suffer from cervical cancer are those that didn't keep up with their anual exams, and it had years to grow w/o detection!
Allytta Allytta 8 years
was this inspired by the last episode of Private Practice? The guy lost half of his jaw and a girlfriend to HPV. Freaked me out a lot. Need to get tested. Stat.
DrSugar DrSugar 8 years
Bella- that's what doctors used to think. All of the data from the last 10 years suggests it's cleared, usually in less than three years.
Beauty Beauty 8 years
I thought HPV never "cleared," that it's always in your system, and that it lies dormant for most people after some time. It just takes time, and as long as your ob/gyn says you don't need more treatment, I'm sure it will be fine.
Unfortunate Unfortunate 8 years
I had HPV for a couple years, a couple years back, so I was in the same boat, and all I can really say is stay optimistic, and try not to worry too much! There isn't much you can do for the time being, so all you can really do is wait for it to clear out of your system. Stay positive!
tlsgirl tlsgirl 8 years
Hey, they just went over this same question on Private Practice last week. Timely.
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