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Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

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Human papillomavirus (pap-ah-LO-mah-VYE-rus) (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States. In fact, at least 50% of sexually active people will have genital HPV at some time in their lives. Though this statistic is frightening, young men and women can protect themselves from contracting any of the 100+ types of HPV, by changing daily habits and by getting the HPV vaccine.

Symptoms of HPV

Most people with HPV do not experience symptoms or health problems from the virus. In 90% of cases, the body’s immune system clears HPV naturally within two years.  But there is no way to know which people who get HPV will go on to develop cancer or other health problems.

Sometimes, certain types of HPV can cause genital warts in males and females. Rarely, these types can also cause warts in the throat, a condition called recurrent respiratory papillomatosis or RRP.

Other HPV types can cause normal cells in the body to turn abnormal, and might lead to cancer over time, such as:

  • Cervical cancer and other, less common cancers, including cancers of the
  • Vulva cancer
  • Vaginal cancer
  • Penis cancer
  • Anal cancer
  • Head and neck cancer (tongue, tonsils and throat cancer)

The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the types that can cause cancer.

Causes and Risk Factors of Sexually Transmitted Diseases

HPV is passed by skin-to-skin contact through, intercourse, genital touching or oral sex. The main symptom that may sometimes present is genital warts.

Another risk factor of HPV is developing cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer usually does not have symptoms until it is quite advanced, very serious and hard to treat. For this reason, it is important for women to get regular screening for cervical cancer by getting Pap smears. Screening tests can find early signs of disease so that problems can be treated before they ever turn into cancer.

Tests to Diagnosis HPV

As explained, many people who contract HPV do not show signs. It can be very easy to spread a virus you don’t know you have. For that reason, women should always use protection and have routine Pap tests, or Pap smears to check for abnormal cell growth, such as HPV. Cervical cancer can result from untreated HPV.

Cervical cancer is the easiest female cancer to prevent, with regular screening tests and follow-up. Two tests can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early—

The Pap test (or Pap smear) helps find precancers, cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately.

The HPV test checks for the virus that can cause these cell changes on the cervix. It may be used to screen for cervical cancer, with the Pap test, in women aged 30 years and older. It also may be used to provide more information when a Pap test has unclear results.

Currently, there is no routine screening test recommended for other HPV-related health effects, such as genital warts or other HPV-associated cancers (cancers of the vulva, vagina, anus, penis and oropharnyx). The Pap test does not screen for cancers other than cervical cancer.

Although there is no routine screening test for other HPV-associated diseases, you should visit your doctor regularly for checkups.

Treatments and Therapies for HPV

Though HPV is very common among sexually active young adults, there is an HPV vaccine that can help prevent HPV, as well as other health concerns. GARDASIL is the only human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine that helps protect against HPV, genital warts and certain types of vaginal cancers that HPV can cause.

There is no treatment for the virus itself, but there are treatments for the problems that HPV can cause:

  • Visible genital warts can be removed with medications or excision.  
  • Abnormal cervical cells (found on a Pap test) often become normal over time, but they can sometimes turn into cancer. Cervical cancer is most treatable when it is diagnosed and treated early. Most women who get routine cervical cancer screening and follow up as told by their provider can find problems before cancer even develops. Prevention is always better than treatment.

To learn more about HPV and how you can protect yourself, contact A Place for Women.