Diseases & Conditions

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection: Types, Causes & Treatment

HPV – human papillomavirus usually begins when a woman’s pap smear comes back abnormal because the presence of the virus has caused her cervical cells to begin to change.

What exactly is HPV & its types

Human Papillomavirus is a very common sexually transmitted disease (STD). An estimated 75-80% of people will get HPV by age 50. There are more than 120 types of HPV and more are being discovered. HPV is responsible for warts on our hands, feet, genitals, and for cervical cancer. Most types are harmless and invisible.  Even the kinds of HPV that cause genital warts are not associated with cancers. There are a few types that, when they travel to the cervix, are known to cause changes to the cells that can turn into cancer. Those types are considered high risk.

Causes of HPV at women or men

One of the reasons HPV is so common is that it is very easy to pass to sex partners. All it takes to give HPV to a sex partner is skin-on-skin contact. While condoms certainly reduce the amount of skin that touches skin, they don’t eliminate it altogether. So the risk is always there to some degree. There are vaccines that can help prevent HPV before you get it. They can help with 4 types of HPV: the 2 types that cause most warts, and the 2 types that cause most cervical cancers. Even if you already have some form of HPV, you may still benefit from getting the vaccine.

Since HPV is an STD, people want to know what to tell their partners. It is an important discussion to have. Talk about ways to protect your partner from the virus as much as possible (using appropriate barriers, whether your partners are men or women), but also include the encouraging statistics that by 2 years 90% of us will have cleared the virus.

It is possible to get HPV orally and anally, and it is associated with cancers in both of those sites. However, since men do not have a cervix, the high risk strains of HPV that may cause cervical cancer in us do not affect them in the same way.

Can you get rid of HPV once you have it?

If you have HPV, there is no way to tell you who gave it to you, or how long you have had it. More than 80% of people get rid of the virus in a year, 90% in 2 years. So statistics are on your side. If you are smoking, quitting can give your immune system a boost to fight off the infection. If you have warts (low risk HPV) you can either allow your body’s defenses to fight off the infection and the warts, or you can get them treated.

How to treat high risk HPV

If you have high risk HPV and abnormal cells on your cervix, then colposcopy is the right treatment. This is examination of your cervix under magnification. The specialist may take biopsies if he/she sees abnormal areas.

Based on the results of your colposcopy and biopsies, you will receive a recommendation on the next step from a specialist.

If the cells are not very advanced in their changes, your cervix does not need any treatment and the most likely following steps are doing paps more frequently for a period of time. If the cells are more advanced, they will need to be removed from the cervix. Having high risk HPV does not mean that you will develop cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is a preventable disease, only if you follow all recommended steps for evaluation and/or treatment.

Are tests efficient in detecting HPV?

When talking about all the different kinds of HPV, and how common it is, a lot of people ask how to get tested for it. But there is no such test! Depending on your age group and other factors, tests are recommended for high risk HPV only with your pap.

But there is no test to look for every kind of HPV in every person. Since there are so many types, and the majority of them are benign, knowing if a person has one of the harmless types does not help specialist in any way. Knowing about the presence of a high risk type however, is very important to help prevent the development of harmful disease.

This is a lot of information. If the clouds have parted and you have a whole new understanding of HPV, comment down below and share your experience with HPV!

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