What is HPV: The Human Papillomavirus?
Human Papillomavirus is commonly referred to as HPV. It is a vast group of viruses potentially leading to warts, genital warts and, in worst cases, cancer.
HPVs are the large group of easily transmitted viruses that potentially can cause cancer. However, the infection can also enter someone’s body through any natural fluids or even minor skin cuts. HPV is one of the most spread sexually transmitted diseases, with 40 of these types of viruses being able to be spread via sexual contact.
Most HPV types do not result in any harmful effect on the human body, and goes away in several months, so could remain unnoticed. Sexually active people are more likely to obtain the infection, and more than a half of all people acquire it over the course of their life if not vaccinated. It is estimated that there were 43 million HPV infections in 2018. This included 13 million new infections.
How to Find Out if You Have it
Health care providers can diagnose genital warts caused by HPV by giving you an exam and looking at the infected area. There is no approved HPV test to find HPV in the mouth or throat. HPV tests are not recommended to screen men, adolescents, or women under the age of 30 years. The problem is most people do not they are infected and never develop symptoms from it. Genital warts are a sign that you may have HPV. However, there are HPV tests that can be used to screen for cervical cancer, as well as pap tests for women. An abnormal Pap test may reflect the presence of HPV.
How do You Get HPV?
HPV is a sexually transmitted disease as it is normally transmitted during sexual contact. It can be contracted by performing sexual acts such as oral, vaginal, anal sex and other skin-to-skin contacts.
So, how can you avoid HPV and the issues it can cause?
The good news is, there is a vaccine that can prevent you from many forms of the HPV virus. The CDC recommends vaccination of all individuals at age 11 or 12 and everyone through age 26. People older than 26 years should not get vaccinated. Because most sexually active adults have already been exposed to HPV, it is not necessarily all the HPV types targeted by vaccination. At any age, new sex partners put you at risk for getting a new HPV infection.
Studies show that if you are in a mutually monogamous relationship, you are less likely to get a new infection. There are also simple guidelines that can help you stay clear of the disease, such as using condoms and dental dams, and avoiding skin-on-skin contact during sex. Know that HPV can infect areas not covered by the condom. Thus, they are not 100% effective in preventing HPV. Of course, you can be in a mutually monogamous relationship where your mate is only having sexual contact with you.
Ways to Treat HPV
There is no direct medicine to cure HPV. However, if you have contracted the virus, there are several ways, including surgical, to get rid of the symptoms, such as warts. Serious cases, including cancer, need to have a complex medical approach.
HPV A, E and D typically go away on their own and do not require special treatment. It is difficult to determine the average period of time required for the virus to go away from the body as it is usually unclear when it has been contracted. However, it can take as much as several years for the virus’ symptoms to go away after the moment they have been detected.
HPV and Cancer
Through many studies we know that HPV can cause cervical cancer. Cancer often takes years to develop after a person get the infection. The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the types that can cause other cancers. Cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus, the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils can develop after exposure.
High-risk HPV can cause various cancers including:
- Cervical cancer
- Anal cancer
- Some types of oral and throat cancer
- Vulvar cancer
- Vaginal cancer
- Penile cancer
Cervical cancer is caused by HPV. The virus spreads through sexual contact. To avoid cervical cancer it is important to get a pap test on a regular basis (yearly) after you become sexually active. It usually takes several years for normal cells in the cervix to turn into cancer cells, so regular screenings can catch the abnormal cells before they before cancerous. Be sure to follow your routine for screening, it can help you prevent cervical cancer.
If your pap text comes back as abnormal cells (dysplasia), you may need to follow up with other tests, such as a biopsy. Treatments may include LEEP, radiation therapy, surgery, chemotherapy.
“Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) uses a wire loop heated by electric current to remove cells and tissue in a woman’s lower genital tract. It is used as part of the diagnosis and treatment for abnormal or cancerous conditions.”
The American Cancer Society’s estimates for cervical cancer in the United States for 2021 are:
- About 14,480 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed.
- About 4,290 women will die from cervical cancer.
Early prevention via pap tests is KEY to early diagnosis, prevention and treatment of cervical cancer!
The sad news is HPV is here to stay. Because there is no cure, you must take precautions to avoid infection. Healthcare professionals will say that the only way to avoid such an STD is to abstain from sex. However, we know that this is not realistic. Be sure that you are having the status conversation with your mates. Find out as much as you can about their sexual history. This will allow you to make an informed decision before you proceed.
And, make sure to get checked for regular yearly screening and pap tests to avoid getting cervical cancer and other sexual infections.
If you need help, contact me.