While most people who get HPV do not experience fertility issues, there are multiple ways HPV (human papillomavirus) can negatively impact fertility.
HPV is an umbrella term used to describe a group of viruses transmitted through skin-to-skin, most often through unprotected sexual contact. According to the CDC, roughly 70 million Americans have at least one of more than 150 strains of HPV, making it one of the most common STDs to contract.
Unfortunately, while an infection itself may cause little to no symptoms, and often resolves on its own, the lasting damage can compromise fertility. This is why it’s so important that younger women and men get the HPV vaccination, proven to protect fertility health by preventing the most virulent strains of HPV. It’s also imperative that sexually active men and women, in non-monogamous relationships, use condoms every time they have sex.
HPV’s effects on female fertility
There are a few ways HPV affects a woman’s future fertility:
HPV treatment can compromise fertility
Most HPV infections run their course without the infected woman ever knowing about it. However, more severe cases may require immediate treatment. The most common treatments can wind up making it more difficult for you to conceive later because they can have a permanent, negative impact on your cervix, or other affected portions of your reproductive system.
Increased risk of cervical cancer
Contracting HPV increases a woman’s chances of developing cervical cancer later on, and this can lead to surgical and/or cancer-related treatments that make it impossible to conceive a baby without ART. If you have cervical cancer, and you’re planning to get pregnant, schedule an appointment with a fertility specialist ASAP to discuss the ways we can preserve your fertility prior to starting cancer treatment.
Scarring can block the fallopian tubes
The inflammation and scarring that can occur during an HPV infection may cause blockages in the fallopian tubes. This makes it more challenging – or impossible – for eggs to travel through the fallopian tubes when you ovulate. Damage to the fallopian tubes also increases your risk of an ectopic pregnancy, resulting in permanent damage to the affected tube.
Increased risk of miscarriage
Any abnormalities in your cervix increases your risk of miscarrying. Most notably, cervix’s compromised by HPV become unable to hold the developing fetus in the uterus. Studies have shown a significant link between cervical HPV and “adverse effects in reproductive function,” including miscarriage.
These adverse effects can also affect the uterine walls, making it more difficult for the fetus to implant or develop normally. Additionally, latent HPV infections can affect a baby in-utero.
HPV and male infertility
Women aren’t the only ones who experience infertility factors related to HPV. Endocrinology studies show that men with or who have had HPV are three to four times more likely to have infertility issues.
HPV can affect their reproductive tract
The tubes that allow the sperm to move from the testicles and through the penis can be altered in ways that make it difficult for sperm to pass through and an infection can also affect sperm production.
Their sperm isn’t as healthy
Sperm that tests positive are “sick” themselves, and this decreases the chances of them fertilizing the egg. Even if sperm are able to fertilize an egg, it increases the chances of miscarriage because the compromised can’t produce a healthy fetus.
The HPV vaccine was developed to assist with widespread prevention. In the meantime, always be honest with your OB/GYN, G.P. and/or fertility specialist about your sexual history so they can recommend the best course(s) of action to preserve your fertility future.
The Reproductive Resource Center is Kansas City’s premier fertility clinic. We work closely with couples experiencing HPV-related infertility to build their families using ART. Contact us to learn more.