This article was originally published by The Cornell Daily Sun on February 14, 2014. Some changes have been made to this version.
A 25 year-old woman comes to clinic for her routine Papanicolau (Pap) smear during my ob-gyn rotation. A few days later she receives a phone call from the gynecology resident. “Your Pap smear results were abnormal,” the doctor told her, “and we would like to take a biopsy of your cervix, which we do under an exam called a colposcopy.” She is told that this abnormality was caused by a strain of the human papillomavirus (HPV), the same virus family that causes common warts.
“HPV?” she asks, “isn’t that a sexually transmitted infection?”
“It is, in fact it is the most common STI in the US.”
“I didn’t think that I was at risk for HPV… I have not had many partners… and we almost always use protection… and I think maybe I was vaccinated… Does this mean I’m going to get cancer?”