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.
HPV Q & A
What is HPV?
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.
Is HPV related to HIV or herpes?
No. While all three can be transmitted through sexual contact, they are unrelated and require different treatments.
How is HPV diagnosed?
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.
How is HPV treated?
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.
Can HPV be prevented?
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.