What is Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that is spread through close skin-to-skin contact. It is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and is usually transmitted through vaginal, anal, and oral sex. There are over 100 types of HPV viruses, and certain types of HPV can lead to cervical cancer, genital warts, and other cancers.
HPV and Cancer
HPV can lead to cancer, specifically cervical cancer. Nearly all cervical cancer cases can be attributed to HPV infection. There is currently a vaccine called the HPV vaccine which can protect against a number of high-risk HPV types that are known to cause most cases of cervical cancer. The vaccine is recommended for females aged 11 and 12 and is also recommended for females through age 26 who haven’t been vaccinated yet.
Most people who are infected with HPV don’t have any symptoms, however some may develop genital warts. Genital warts are small lumps or bumps on the vulva, penis, anus, or inside the vagina. They may be raised or flat, single or multiple, and appear in the form of a cluster of warts. HPV infection can also lead to changes in the cells of the cervix that can be detected through a pap smear test.
Diagnosing and Treating HPV
HPV can be diagnosed by a HPV test, which is a test for the virus itself and is often used for follow up after an abnormal pap smear. It is usually done on a sample of cells taken from the cervix. The HPV test should not be used to screen people who are not at risk of the virus, as it may lead to unnecessary treatments.
Treatment of HPV depends on the type of infection and the symptoms that are present. In most cases, HPV will be cleared by the body on its own without needing any treatment. However, if genital warts or abnormal cells of the cervix are present, treatment options such as topical ointments, cryotherapy, laser therapy, and surgery may be used.
The best way to prevent HPV is through vaccination. The HPV vaccine protects against the most common types of high-risk HPV that can lead to cervical cancer. In addition, practicing safe sex and limiting the number of sexual partners can help reduce the risk of contracting HPV.
By getting the HPV vaccine and practicing safe sex, you can reduce your risk of getting HPV and protect yourself from HPV-related cancers and diseases. Talk to your healthcare provider about the HPV vaccine to find out if it’s right for you.