Human Papillomavirus

There are more than 30 types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that can negatively affect your genital area. However, some of them are harmless and can provoke genital warts only. Just some of them are considered serious because they can cause cervical cancer. Regular Pap smears and vaccines against HPV can help you to prevent this type of cancer.

What is Human Papillomavirus?

A common virus that impacts different parts of the body is called HPV. More than 100 HPV types are known including those that provoke warts on the feet, face, hands, and others. Approximately 30 of them cause genital problems (including the cervix, penis, scrotum, vagina, vulva, rectum, anus, and others). Human papillomavirus that negatively affects your genital area is considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI), which usually passes from one person to another through skin contact. While some strains of HPV increase someone’s risk of developing cervical cancer, others are harmless because they can cause genital warts only.

Are All Warts HPV?

Yes, all warts that someone experiences are caused by the human papillomavirus. While warts are provoked by HPV, not all types of HPV cause warts. For example, the HPV that provokes cervical cancer does not cause warts. Check below warts types:

  • Plantar warts
  • Flat warts
  • Common warts
  • Subungual and periungual warts

How is Human Papillomavirus Related to Cervical Cancer?

Cervical dysplasia is a health condition in which a person experiences some changes in the cells of the cervix usually due to certain HPV strains (in most cases types 16 and 18). The opening between the vagina and uterus is called the cervix. If you leave cervical dysplasia untreated, it may lead to cervical cancer.

Additionally, regular Paps to screen for cervical cancer is very important because this could be the only way to prevent this problem. Moreover, not everyone who has cervical dysplasia can get cervical cancer. Ask your doctor if you have any questions.

Who Does Human Papillomavirus Impact?

Everyone can become infected with HPV, especially if they have sex or close skin-to-skin genital contact with a partner who is infected. Furthermore, a person with the virus can spread it to others during sexual intercourse, oral sex, anal sex, or other close genital contact.

Human Papillomavirus in Women

HPV presents an increased risk to females and people assigned to females at birth (AFAB) because if it is left untreated it may lead to cervical cancer. However, regular Pap smears and HPV tests can help to detect precancerous cells and prevent cervical cancer. Females may also experience HPV forms that provoke genital warts.

Human Papillomavirus in Men

Men and people assigned to males at birth (AMAB) are at decreased health risks compared to women. Usually, most infections caused by HPV clear on their own but they can also experience genital warts due to HPV. However, this virus can provoke cancer of the penis, anus, neck, and head. Fortunately, these cancer types are rare.

In any case, if you are HIV positive, it may be challenging for your immune system to fight against HPV. You may be at higher risk of developing cancer if you are male and have sex with another one (MSM). This may occur due to certain HPV strains. However, you can do an anal Pap test that will help to identify cell changes, which can lead to cancer. Generally, it is important to get vaccinated and practice safe sex (using condoms/dental dams).

Symptoms

Those forms of HPV that impact your genitals usually are not dangerous and asymptomatic. The most common symptom that you have to get infected is genital warts. While these warts are contagious they are harmless. Commonly, high-risk types of HPV do not provoke any symptoms until they lead to cancer and the most common type of HPV-related cancer is cervical cancer. Check below some rare human papillomavirus-related cancers:

  • Vaginal cancer
  • Vulvar cancer
  • Throat cancer
  • Penile cancer
  • Anal cancer

Discuss with your healthcare provider for more details.

How Easily Transmitted is HPV?

This virus is very contagious because it may spread to another person by skin-to-skin contact. Moreover, to contact the virus no body fluids have to be exchanged. In other words, you can get this virus from your partner even if no one ejaculates.

Diagnosis

Doctors usually diagnose warts just by looking but high-risk types of HPV, especially those that are asymptomatic require Pap smear or HPV test.

  • Pap Smear – This test involves screens for precancerous cells and cervical cancer. In addition, cervical cancer roughly every time is caused by high-risk human papillomavirus.
  • HPV Test – These tests help to identify high-risk types of HPV that provoke cervical cancer if left untreated. However, there are no U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved tests to determine HPV on the vulva, penis, scrotum, rectum, anus, or vagina.
  • Colposcopy – It is another test that is usually done after a Pap smear shows abnormal cells or if you are positively tested for human papillomavirus. Thereafter, your doctor may perform a biopsy of the abnormal cells to check for precancer or cancer.
  • Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid (VIA) – During this test, your doctor will place a vinegar solution on your cervix. This procedure is done when there is no access to regular Pap smears or HPV tests. In case this solution turns abnormal cells white, which makes it possible to identify them.

Treatment

The treatment helps to remove any warts and the virus from the body. However, the treatment is different from person to person because it depends on the type and severity of the infection, your age, weight, existing health conditions, and others. Check below some treatment options:

  • Cryosurgery – A surgery that involves freezing the warts and destroying abnormal cells. This procedure is done with liquid nitrogen.
  • Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP) – A physician will use a special wire loop to remove abnormal cells and warts from your cervix.
  • Electrocautery – Using electrical current, warts are burned off.
  • Laser Therapy – This procedure involves an intense light that helps to destroy warts and any abnormal cells.
  • Cold Knife Cone Biopsy (Conization)
  • Prescription Cream – Imiquimod and Podofilox are creams usually prescribed by doctors to get rid of warts.
  • Trichloroacetic Acid (TCA) – Involves a chemical treatment that helps to burn off warts.

However, there is a lower risk of developing abnormal cells that need treatment even if you experience high-risk HPV.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to prevent human papillomavirus?

There are some tips that can help you to prevent this infection. Examples include:

  • Regular checkups (which include HPV tests and Pap smears)
  • Get the HPV vaccine
  • Practice safe sex
  • Protect your partner(s) – It is recommended to let know your partner if you are infected with this virus. You can also ask your healthcare provider about the precautions while experiencing HPV infection.

How common is human papillomavirus?

Approximately 14 million people get infected with HPV. Therefore, it is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the U.S. Furthermore, more of them do not know they have this virus.

How do you get HPV?

A person can get infected with human papillomavirus if the genitals including the vulva, vagina, cervix, penis, scrotum, rectum, and anus come into contact with the same organs of another person that is infected with this virus.

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