HPV is a very common infection that usually resolves on its own. In some cases though, it can cause warts and increase the risk of cervical cancer. Northwest Women’s Center in Houston, TX, offers vaccinations against HPV as well as advanced testing and treatment to help women with HPV infections.
Human Papillomavirus Q & A
Human papillomavirus can affect various parts of the body, including the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, mouth, and throat. Instances of HPV infection are quite common. Cases of cancer in the areas affected by HPV are not. For example, there are far fewer cases of cervical cancer than cases of HPV in the cervix. Studies suggest that HPV often goes away spontaneously. It is in cases where the infection persists for an elongated period of time (years) that the risk of abnormal cell formation increases. What your doctor may see first are warning signs; precancerous cells that are found during your routine screening for cervical cancer (Pap smear).
Chances are, if you have HPV, you have no symptoms. In some cases, the infection can cause genital warts to develop. These fleshy growths develop on the external genitalia. They may be felt when you shower but can also be easily overlooked. The primary way to know if you have HPV is to learn so through a routine screening. Unfortunately, there is only one test that currently screens for abnormal cell changes related to this virus. That is the Pap test that women receive every few years during their well-woman exams. The Pap smear obtains a small sample of cells from the cervix. It does not screen for vaginal or vulvar HPV, nor other areas, like the mouth or throat. In those instances, HPV is usually found as the underlying cause of an existing condition, such as respiratory illness or a type of cancer. The symptoms, then, are related to the primary disease and not to HPV itself.
Whether or not you have received the HPV vaccine, if you have female genitalia you need to continue getting your routine health screenings. The HPV vaccine is very effective against two primary types of cancer-causing viruses. There are several more HPV strains that may occur, some of them posing a risk of cancer. Also, the efficacy of the HPV vaccine is optimal in people who've not been exposed to human papillomavirus. Ideally, the vaccine is given before a person becomes sexually active. That said, regular Pap screenings are advised for all women who are sexually active.
Yes. While having HPV doesn't mean you will have genital warts, having genital warts does mean that you have HPV. Genital warts are typically caused by HPC types 6 and 11. Keep in mind that what feels like a fleshy growth in the vulvar or scrotal area may actually be a skin tag or mole. Any growth in these areas should be examined by a qualified healthcare provider. Also keep in mind that having genital warts caused by HPV does not mean you will develop cancer. Part of seeing a doctor for genital warts and HPV testing is to gain peace of mind about your risks.
HPV stands for human papillomavirus, a large family of about 100 very common viruses that can be spread through sexual contact. HPV is so common, most sexually-active people will become infected at some point, and usually, the body is able to clear the virus from the body without causing any symptoms. Sometimes, though, HPV can cause genital warts and increase the risk for certain cancers including cervical cancer. HPV can also cause outbreaks in or around the mouth and in the throat, and some studies have linked the virus to an increased risk of oral cancer.
No. While all three can be transmitted through sexual contact, they are unrelated and require different treatments.
HPV can be diagnosed during a pelvic exam through a Pap test or an HPV test. During the exam, a small number of cervical cells are removed from the surface of the cervix and evaluated under a microscope. If the test yields an abnormal result, a second exam will be performed using a special magnifier called a colposcope to evaluate the area more closely. Small tissue samples or biopsies will be taken of any abnormal areas and examined in a lab to determine if HPV is present.
Genital warts are fleshy, firm bumps or lumps that form around the genitals or anus. When HPV causes genital warts, the warts may be treated with topical medications or with in-office procedures to remove the warts by excising them, using heat to burn them off (a treatment called loop electrosurgical excision procedure or LEEP) or using liquid nitrogen to freeze them off (cryosurgery). Lasers can also be used to remove warts. Once warts are removed, they may return in some women, but there are steps patients can take to reduce the frequency or flare-ups.
HPV may be prevented by practicing safe sex, but it can be transmitted orally as well as through vaginal and anal sex, so prevention can be difficult. The best way to prevent HPV is to be vaccinated against infection, ideally during the teenage or preteen years prior to becoming sexually active.
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Many women hear about certain viruses and infections that can impact their reproductive health. When asked about HPV, many women are uninformed about this infection and are encouraged to speak with their healthcare provider about this and other concerns that can develop. What is HPV? HPV stands for human papillomavirus. HPV is a viral infection …
The nice thing about being busy is that days fly by, but suddenly we have an appointment alarm beeping. Thank goodness for calendars on our phones, because they keep us sane. Though we might not skip into our Pap smear appointment, it’s truly one of those tests that we appreciate in our lives. Keep reading …