Embry Women’s Health has extensive expertise in identifying and managing HPV infections, helping women throughout the Mesa, AZ area get the treatment they need for their symptoms, including providing state-of-the-art treatment of warts associated with the human papillomavirus so patients feel more confident about their sexual and overall health.
What is human papillomavirus (HPV)?
Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is the name of a large group of viruses that can be picked up from a variety of sources, including sexual intercourse. Many types of HPV don’t cause health problems. Of the sexually transmitted HPV viruses, some cause genital warts, and others — called high-risk HPV — cause cancer. According to the CDC, Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. In fact, it is so common that nearly all sexually-active men and women contract it at some point in their lives. In most cases, HPV goes away on its own but when it does not, it can cause cancer and genital warts.
What is the association between HPV and cervical cancer?
Virtually all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV. High-risk HPV infections can go away on their own, but if they stay in your body, they can cause the cells to grow abnormally. When they’re not treated, they progress to become cancer.
What are the symptoms of an HPV infection?
The HPV virus alone seldom causes symptoms. Symptoms only arise if the virus causes warts or cervical cancer.
Genital warts may look like a flat wart, clustered bumps, or a stem-like projection from the skin. Genital warts usually appear on the external genitalia, but they can also develop in the vagina, on the cervix, and near the anus. They’re usually not painful, but they may be itchy. Genital warts don’t usually signal cancer.
In the early stages, cervical cancer doesn’t cause symptoms. As the cancer grows into surrounding tissues, you may experience:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding: may be longer or heavier than normal, or may occur after sex, between periods, or after menopause
- Unusual vaginal discharge: may include blood and occur between periods
- Pain during sex
These symptoms don’t necessarily mean you have cancer, as they can be signs of other infections or gynecologic problems, but they should never be ignored.
Can HPV be prevented?
You can significantly lower your chance of contracting HPV by getting one of the approved vaccines or by using condoms every time you have sex. It’s also important to get regular preventive screening for cervical cancer and the HPV virus, so they can be caught at an early stage.
Schedule an appointment at Embry Women’s Health as soon as you notice symptoms or if it’s been a while since your last preventive screening. Book Online using the link above.
How can I prevent HPV infection?
The best way to avoid an HPV infection is to get a vaccination or avoid sexual contact. Current vaccination recommendations include vaccination of all boys and girls at the age of 11 or 12. If you didn’t receive a vaccination at that age, it’s possible to receive a “catch-up” vaccine later in adulthood.
Adhering to safe sex practices is another critical tool to prevent HPV infections. While the consistent and correct use of male latex condoms during sexual activity may reduce your risk, this virus can also spread through contact with infected skin or mucosal surfaces not covered by a latex condom.
Symptoms don’t have to be present to transmit HPV to your partner. Because there’s often no signs or symptoms, it can be difficult to know if you have HPV.
Many men, women, and children don’t realize they have HPV until they develop genital warts or have an abnormal Pap smear result. By that point, you may have unwittingly passed the virus on to multiple partners.
How is HPV and other STDs contracted?
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HPV are contracted by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus or disease. In many cases, STDs can be passed even when the infected person shows no signs or symptoms. In the case of HPV, anyone who is sexually active can get the virus, even if they have only had sex with one person. A person may be exposed to HPV through mere genital to genital contact and does not require intercourse. Both men and women can be carriers of HPV for any period of time; therefore, often we cannot pinpoint the exact moment when a patient first contracted the virus.
How do you test for and treat HPV and other STDs?
There is no current test for HPV, but there are HPV tests that can screen for cervical cancer. These tests are only recommended for women over the age of 30. However, the best way to prevent the virus is to be vaccinated against it. The HPV vaccine is recommended for everyone, males and females, between the ages of 9 and 26. There is no treatment for the virus itself, but only for the health problems caused by the virus. Genital warts, cervical precancer, and other HPV cancers are treated individually.
Testing for other STDs is generally done via a physical exam, a culture or swab from the infected site, or blood tests. Treatment of STDs varies depending on the disease. Oral antibiotics, antibiotic injections, and medications may be used.
What are treatment options for HPV?
There is no cure for the HPV virus. Your treatment focuses on the health problems brought on by an HPV infection, such as genital warts and cancers.
Genital warts are bumps or groupings of bumps on or near your genitals. They are small or large and appear flat or cauliflower-shaped.
In women, genital warts and cancers are detectable through a colposcopy, a minimally invasive diagnostic tool using a slim tube with a camera and light to visually inspect your vagina, cervix, and uterus.
If genital warts or abnormal cells are present, technologies that use heat or cold can remove them.
Cryosurgery destroys tumors or genital warts by freezing them using liquid nitrogen. A loop electrosurgical excision procedure removes damaged cells and genital warts with a small, electrically-heated wire loop.
Other Common HPV Questions:
How many types of HPV are there?
More than 100 types of HPV have been found. About 30 of these types infect the genital areas of men and women and are spread from person to person through sexual contact.
How common is HPV?
HPV is a very common virus. Some research suggests that at least three out of four people who have sex will get a genital HPV infection at some time during their lives.
How is HPV infection spread?
HPV is primarily spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex, but sexual intercourse is not required for infection to occur. HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact. Sexual contact with an infected partner, regardless of the sex of the partner, is the most common way the virus is spread. Like many other sexually transmitted diseases, there often are no signs or symptoms of genital HPV infection.
What diseases does HPV infection cause?
Approximately 12 types of Human Papillomavirus cause genital warts. These growths may appear on the outside or inside of the vagina or on the penis and can spread to nearby skin. Genital warts also can grow around the anus, on the vulva, or on the cervix.
Approximately 15 types of HPV are linked to cancer of the anus, cervix, vulva, vagina, and penis (see the FAQ Cervical Cancer). They also can cause cancer of the head and neck. These types are known as “high-risk types.”
How does HPV cause cancer of the cervix?
The cervix is covered by a thin layer of tissue made up of cells. If HPV is present, it may enter these cells. Infected cells may become abnormal or damaged and begin to grow differently. The changes in these cells may progress to what is known as precancer. Changes in the thin tissue covering the cervix are called dysplasia or cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN). In most women, the immune system destroys the virus before it causes cancer. But in some women, HPV is not destroyed by the immune system and does not go away. In these cases, HPV can lead to cancer or, more commonly, precancer.
Are there screening tests for cervical cancer?
It usually takes years for cervical cancer to develop. During this time, Human Papillomavirus infection can cause cells on or around the cervix to become abnormal. A Pap test, sometimes called cervical cytology screening, can detect early signs of abnormal cell changes of the cervix and allows early treatment so they do not become cancer.
An HPV test also is available. It is used along with the Pap test in women 30 years and older and as a follow-up test for women whose Pap tests show abnormal or uncertain results. The HPV test can identify 13–14 of the high-risk types of HPV.
Can HPV infection be prevented?
Two vaccines are available that protect against certain types of HPV. The following methods also help decrease the chance of infection:
- Limit your number of sexual partners.
- Use condoms to reduce your risk of infection when you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Condoms cannot fully protect you against HPV infection. Human Papillomavirus can be passed from person to person by touching infected areas not covered by a condom. These areas may include skin in the genital or anal areas. Female condoms cover more skin and may provide a little more protection than male condoms.
Cells: The smallest units of a structure in the body; the building blocks for all parts of the body.
Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia (CIN): Another term for dysplasia; a noncancerous condition that occurs when normal cells on the surface of the cervix are replaced by a layer of abnormal cells. CIN is graded as 1 (mild dysplasia), 2 (moderate dysplasia), or 3 (severe dysplasia or carcinoma in situ).
Cervix: The opening of the uterus at the top of the vagina.
Dysplasia: A noncancerous condition that occurs when normal cells are replaced by a layer of abnormal cells.
Immune System: The body’s natural defense system against foreign substances and invading organisms, such as bacteria that cause disease.
Pap Test: A test in which cells are taken from the cervix and vagina and examined under a microscope.
Sexual Intercourse: The act of the penis of the male entering the vagina of the female (also called “having sex” or “making love”).
Sexually Transmitted Diseases: Diseases that are spread by sexual contact, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, human papillomavirus infection, herpes, syphilis, and infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV, the cause of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome [AIDS]).
Vulva: The external female genital area.
Further questions can be answered by your provider at Embry Women’s Health.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). HPV is a different virus than HIV and HSV (herpes). 79 million Americans, most in their late teens and early 20s, are infected with HPV. There are many different types of HPV. Some types can cause health problems including genital warts and cancers. But there are vaccines that can stop these health problems from happening.
You can get HPV by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus. It is most commonly spread during vaginal or anal sex. HPV can be passed even when an infected person has no signs or symptoms.
Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV, even if you have had sex with only one person. You also can develop symptoms years after you have sex with someone who is infected. This makes it hard to know when you first became infected.
In most cases, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. But when HPV does not go away, it can cause health problems like genital warts and cancer.
Genital warts usually appear as a small bump or group of bumps in the genital area. They can be small or large, raised or flat, or shaped like a cauliflower. A healthcare provider can usually diagnose warts by looking at the genital area.
HPV can cause cervical and other cancers including cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. It can also cause cancer in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (called oropharyngeal cancer).
Cancer often takes years, even decades, to develop after a person gets HPV. The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the types of HPV that can cause cancers.
There is no way to know which people who have HPV will develop cancer or other health problems. People with weak immune systems (including those with HIV/AIDS) may be less able to fight off HPV. They may also be more likely to develop health problems from HPV.
There is no test to find out a person’s “HPV status.” Also, there is no approved HPV test to find HPV in the mouth or throat.
There are HPV tests that can be used to screen for cervical cancer. These tests are only recommended for screening in women aged 30 years and older. HPV tests are not recommended to screen men, adolescents, or women under the age of 30 years.
Most people with HPV do not know they are infected and never develop symptoms or health problems from it. Some people find out they have HPV when they get genital warts. Women may find out they have HPV when they get an abnormal Pap test result (during cervical cancer screening). Others may only find out once they’ve developed more serious problems from HPV, such as cancers.
You can do several things to lower your chances of getting HPV.
Get vaccinated. The HPV vaccine is safe and effective. It can protect against diseases (including cancers) caused by HPV when given in the recommended age groups. (See “Who should get vaccinated?” below) CDC recommends 11 to 12 year olds get two doses of HPV vaccine to protect against cancers caused by HPV. For more information on the recommendations, please see: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/hpv/public/index.html
Get screened for cervical cancer. Routine screening for women aged 21 to 65 years old can prevent cervical cancer.
If you are sexually active
- Use latex condoms the right way every time you have sex. This can lower your chances of getting HPV. But HPV can infect areas not covered by a condom – so condoms may not fully protect against getting HPV;
- Be in a mutually monogamous relationship – or have sex only with someone who only has sex with you.
All boys and girls ages 11 or 12 years should get vaccinated.
Catch-up vaccines are recommended for boys and men through age 21 and for girls and women through age 26, if they did not get vaccinated when they were younger.
HPV vaccine is also recommended for the following people, if they did not get vaccinated when they were younger:
- young men who have sex with men, including young men who identify as gay or bisexual or who intend to have sex with men through age 26;
- young adults who are transgender through age 26; and
- young adults with certain immunocompromising conditions (including HIV) through age 26.
There is no treatment for the virus itself. However, there are treatments for the health problems that HPV can cause:
- Genital warts can be treated by your healthcare provider or with prescription medication. If left untreated, genital warts may go away, stay the same, or grow in size or number.
- Cervical precancer can be treated. Women who get routine Pap tests and follow up as needed can identify problems before cancer develops. Prevention is always better than treatment. For more information visit www.cancer.org.
- Other HPV-related cancers are also more treatable when diagnosed and treated early. For more information visit www.cancer.org.
Yes. HPV itself isn’t cancer but it can cause changes in the body that lead to cancer. HPV infections usually go away by themselves but, when they don’t, they can cause certain kinds of cancer to develop. These include cervical cancer in women, penile cancer in men, and anal cancer in both women and men. HPV can also cause cancer in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (called oropharyngeal cancer). All of these cancers are caused by HPV infections that did not go away. Cancer develops very slowly and may not be diagnosed until years, or even decades, after a person first gets infected with HPV. Currently, there is no way to know who will have only a temporary HPV infection, and who will develop cancer after getting HPV.
If you are pregnant and have HPV, you can get genital warts or develop abnormal cell changes on your cervix. Abnormal cell changes can be found with routine cervical cancer screening. You should get routine cervical cancer screening even when you are pregnant.
HPV (the virus): About 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. About 14 million people become newly infected each year. HPV is so common that almost every person who is sexually-active will get HPV at some time in their life if they don’t get the HPV vaccine.
Health problems related to HPV include genital warts and cervical cancer.
Genital warts: Before HPV vaccines were introduced, roughly 340,000 to 360,000 women and men were affected by genital warts caused by HPV every year.* Also, about one in 100 sexually active adults in the U.S. has genital warts at any given time.
Cervical cancer: Every year, nearly 12,000 women living in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cervical cancer, and more than 4,000 women die from cervical cancer—even with screening and treatment.
There are other conditions and cancers caused by HPV that occur in people living in the United States. Every year, approximately 19,400 women and 12,100 men are affected by cancers caused by HPV.
*These figures only look at the number of people who sought care for genital warts. This could be an underestimate of the actual number of people who get genital warts.
No, there is currently no approved test for HPV in men.
Routine testing (also called ‘screening’) to check for HPV or HPV-related disease before there are signs or
symptom, is not recommended by the CDC for anal, penile, or throat cancers in men in the United States.
However, some healthcare providers do offer anal Pap tests to men who may be at increased risk for anal cancer,
including men with HIV or men who receive anal sex. If you have symptoms and are concerned about cancer,
please see a healthcare provider.
No, HPV infections are usually temporary. A person may have had HPV for many
years before it causes health problems. If you or your partner are diagnosed
with an HPV-related disease, there is no way to know how long you have
had HPV, whether your partner gave you HPV, or whether you gave HPV
to your partner. HPV is not necessarily a sign that one of you is having sex
outside of your relationship. It is important that sex partners discuss their
sexual health and risk for all STIs, with each other.
If you or your partner have genital warts, you should avoid having sex until the warts are gone or removed. However, it is not known how long a person is able to spread HPV after warts are gone.
In the United States, the HPV vaccine is recommended for the
• All boys at age 11 or 12 years (or as young as 9 years)
• Older boys and men through age 21 years, if they did not get vaccinated
when they were younger
• Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men through age 26 years, if
they did not get vaccinated when they were younger
• Men with HIV or weakened immune systems through age 26 years, if they did
not get vaccinated when they were younger
Genital warts usually appear as a small bump or group of bumps in the genital area around the penis or the anus. These warts might be small or large, raised or flat, or shaped like a cauliflower. The warts may go away, or stay the same, or grow in size or number. Usually, a healthcare provider can diagnose genital warts simply by looking at them. Genital warts can come back, even after treatment. The types of HPV that cause warts do not cause cancer.
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