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Will Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Affect My Fertility?

Human papillomavirus and fertility

Highlights

  1. HPV is the most common STI.
  2. In most cases, it doesn’t affect the ability to conceive.
  3. If cancerous cells develop in your cervix, it can affect your fertility.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is common among sexually active adults. Approximately 79 million Americans have at least one type of HPV. At least 100 varieties of HPV exist.

Sometimes, the body can fight off the virus and rid your body of it in one to two years. This isn’t always the case, though. Some types of HPV can cause serious health problems, such as skin warts and cancers.

Although you may have heard that HPV can lead to fertility problems, that’s generally not the case. HPV shouldn’t affect your ability to conceive. However, having HPV can increase your risk of cervical cancer. Removing cancerous or precancerous cells from your cervix can affect your fertility.

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Research

What the research says

It’s common for people with HPV to experience harmless warts. Some strains of HPV can go beyond this. They can cause the cells in your cervix to become cancerous.

HPV infections don’t always require treatment. If your doctor decides that they need to remove abnormal cells, they’ll use one of the following techniques:

  • cyrotherapy, or freezing and eliminating the abnormal tissue
  • a cone biopsy to remove part of the cervix
  • a loop electrosurgical excision procedure, which involves removing cells with a wire loop that carries an electrical charge

These procedures can affect your ability to conceive or reach full term in your pregnancy. This is because cell removal can change your cervical mucus production. It may also cause stenosis, or a narrowing of the opening of the cervix. This may cause sperm to slow and make it more difficult for an egg to get fertilized.

Certain treatments may also cause the cervix to weaken. This can lead to cervical insufficiency, which can cause your cervix to widen and thin before your pregnancy has come to term.

People once thought the HPV vaccine caused infertility. This idea has been largely debunked. It’s now thought that the vaccine can improve fertility by preventing the development of precancerous and cancerous cells in the cervix.

One 2011 study found that men with HPV-infected semen can experience infertility. If HPV-infected sperm fertilize an egg, the risk of miscarriage may exist. A 2014 study also concluded that HPV-infected sperm could contribute to male and couple infertility.

More research on the effects of HPV in men is necessary to determine whether this is a consistent finding.

Keep reading: What does an HPV diagnosis mean for my relationship? »

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Takeaway

The bottom line

Sexually active women should get regularly tested for HPV. At this time, an HPV test for men isn’t available. You should always wear a condom during sexual activity to minimize your chances of developing or spreading HPV.

For most men and women, HPV shouldn’t affect your chances of conceiving. Although it’s possible that HPV could lead to infertility in men, more research is necessary. 

  • If I become pregnant, can HPV affect my pregnancy or my baby’s health?
  • In general, HPV isn’t seen as a high risk to pregnancy. It isn’t known to cause any intrauterine problems. The potential for HPV transmission to a fetus during vaginal birth is low. Vaginal birth is usually encouraged over cesarean unless the patient has large condyloma, or genital warts, from the HPV. If the warts are large enough, they can block the birth canal.

    - Michael Weber, MD
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