HPV: What's the Real Story?
The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine has been available in the United States for more than 10 years. But there are still a lot of false ideas, or myths, about HPV infection and the vaccine. This program is for anyone who wants to know the real facts about it.
It was found that HPV rates are significantly higher in men than women. Even so, this should not mean that women can rest easy when it comes to this STI. In women, HPV can be passed on either through vaginal, anal or oral intercourse Having the HPV virus will not affect your chance of becoming pregnant, although if you have a high-risk HPV infection, the cancerous cells that develop in your cervix may have an effect on your fertility
Basic Facts About HPV Infection
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is an infection that infects the cell lining body cavities (mucous membranes) and skin of the affected individual. Unlike other STIs, it is not passed on through body fluids — rather, it spreads through direct, close skin-to-skin contact, typically during sexual intercourse.
While sexual intercourse is not the only way to get HPV, it is the primary mode of infection for sexually active people. In women, HPV can be passed on either through vaginal, anal or oral intercourse. But whether in men or women, HPV is actually a very common infection which is usually benign, and goes away on its own, often without you ever knowing you had it. It’s said to affect 8 in 10 people at some point in their lives.
Usually, HPV causes no symptoms at all and for most individuals, the infection clears itself within a couple of years. In others, though, the infection stays for a longer period and becomes persistent, sometimes causing symptoms such as warts or abnormal cell growths or lesions. Left untreated, these symptoms may develop into cancer of the cervix, vulva, penis, anus or oropharynx, depending on which area of the body the lesions appear.
Symptoms of HPV in Women
Warts are the most visible symptom of HPV, and these come in two types: common, or plantar warts, and genital warts. Common warts are those that appear on the arms, feet, hands and chest, and are typically noncancerous growths. It’s said that three-fourths of HPV types (there are over 200 strains of HPV) can cause common warts.
As evidenced by its name, genital warts are those that found in the genital regions. It’s said that HPV types 6 and 11 are responsible for 90 percent of genital warts today. In women, genital warts usually grow inside the vagina, around the vaginal opening or vulva, on the cervix (the lower end of the uterus), inside or around the anal region and on the upper thighs. Genital warts vary in size — they can be large and noticeable, but sometimes, they may be too small to see. When you see them, though, they can be:
•Flat or raised
•White or flesh-toned
•Grow in clusters
•Have a cauliflower-like appearance
•Tender, itchy or painful
Increased vaginal discharge may also occur due to genital warts. In some cases, the anus or vagina may bleed.
HPV and Cervical Lesions
One other visible symptom of a high-risk type of HPV infection that has not cleared on its own are lesions on your cervix. Although you can’t see the lesion, they may be observed by your physician or gynecologist during a Pap test. In this procedure, your doctor will insert an instrument called a speculum into your vagina and scrape cells from your cervix. The samples are then sent to a lab, where they are examined for abnormal cell changes and possible signs of cancer.
Can HPV Affect Women Who Are Pregnant?
Having the HPV virus will not affect your chance of becoming pregnant, although if you have a high-risk HPV infection, then the cancerous cells that develop in your cervix may have an effect on your fertility. There is no link found between HPV and having a miscarriage, premature birth or other pregnancy complications.
While there’s a very low risk of passing on the human papillomavirus to your unborn baby, there are cases in which types 6 and 11 can infect a baby at birth with a rare respiratory infection called juvenile onset recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (JORRP). If you are an expectant mother and test positive for high-risk HPV types your physician will monitor your condition to check for changes in your cervical tissue.
Traditional treatments for HPV symptoms
Although there isn’t a cure for HPV, there are treatments for the health problems that HPV can cause.
Many warts will clear up without treatment, but if you prefer not to wait, you can have them removed by the following methods and products:
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach for wart removal. The best option for you will depend on several factors, including the size, number, and location of your warts.
The bottom line
HPV is a common infection that usually goes away on its own. Certain strains of HPV can develop into something much more serious, such as cervical cancer.
There are currently no medical or natural treatments for the virus, but its symptoms are treatable.
If you have HPV, it’s important to practice safe sex methods to prevent transmission. You should also get routinely screened for HPV and cervical cancer.
If precancerous or cancerous cells are discovered in the cervix, your doctor will remove them in one of three ways:
- surgical conization, which involves removing a cone-shaped piece of tissue
- loop electrosurgical excision, which involves removing the tissue with a hot wire loop
If precancerous or cancerous cells are discovered in other areas of the body, such as on the penis, the same options for removal can be used.
If you become pregnant and have HPV symptoms, such as genital warts, it’s possible for the warts to enlarge and multiply during the pregnancy. These can only be treated once the baby has been delivered. Genital warts that are too large may also block the birth canal and make vaginal delivery difficult. A rare, noncancerous growth in the baby’s larynx may also occur.
Therefore, if you have HPV and want to conceive, make sure that you discuss your condition first with your doctor, so that you will be informed of any potential side effects and health repercussions.