Eight Important Facts to Know About HPV

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of about 200 different viruses that can cause infections in people. Approximately 40 of these virus types cause infections of the genitals. Since HPV is the most common sexually-transmitted disease (STD) in the United States, these eight essential facts are useful to know.

1. HPV can cause genital warts and cancer

The entire group of human papillomaviruses is categorized by doctors in two ways: low risk and high risk. The low-risk group of HPVs are the types that cause genital warts. The high-risk group of HPVs are the more concerning type. These are the strains of the virus that cause different types of cancers. There’s no cure for HPV, but there are strategies that can reduce your risk of catching it.

2. High-risk HPVs can cause many types of cancer:

3. You can get HPV without having sex

HPV is transmitted, or spread from person to person, during anal, oral, and vaginal sex with someone who has the virus. You can also catch HPV by having skin-to-skin contact with someone who has the virus -- that’s how you can become infected with HPV without having sexual intercourse. A person with HPV can spread it to someone else, even if they don’t have any symptoms.

4. HPV may or may not have symptoms

Some people with HPV have no symptoms at all, and their body clears the HPV infection on its own. For others, an HPV infection can cause either genital warts. If a person is infected with a high-risk strain, symptoms of cancer will develop in the area that’s infected.

Genital warts: Genital warts are bumps and can vary in their appearance. They can look different on different people. They can:

Cancer: If a person has a high-risk strain of an HPV, they can develop a variety of cancer symptoms depending on the body part afflicted. Cancer can develop in the oropharyngeal area -- the mouth and throat. HPV can also cause cancer in the genitalia area, including the anus, cervix, penis, vagina, and vulva.

*It’s important to note that cervical cancer will not show any symptoms in its early stages, so it’s essential for women to get regular Pap tests on a routine basis (as advised by the doctor) to screen for cervical cancer.

5. Symptoms don’t always appear right away

Some women have no symptoms at all initially. Others can develop genital warts or cervical cancer months to years after they’ve been exposed.

6. You can take steps to avoid catching HPV

Abstaining from intimate relations and sexual intercourse may prevent HPV. If that’s not possible, other ways to reduce your risk are:

7. An exam and testing are done to diagnose HPV

A physical exam will determine if you have genital warts. Pap tests (smears) can also detect abnormal changes in your cervix. A Pap test is performed during a pelvic exam. During a Pap test, samples of cells are taken from your cervix and sent to a lab for testing. Pap tests can find precancerous changes in the cervix, as well as cancer. During a pelvic exam, the doctor will also look for signs of cancer on your external genitalia (vulva) and in your vagina.

8. There are treatments for HPV

Treatments for HPV depend on the area of your body infected. The treatments include cryosurgery, electrocautery, lasers, and LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure).

If you’re concerned you may have HPV, call the office of Dr. Richard Bardowell in Burbank, California, to schedule an appointment, because the earlier you’re diagnosed and treated for HPV, the better. As a top-rated OB/GYN serving women in southern California, Dr. Bardowell is an expert at diagnosing and treating HPV, and will monitor you for symptoms of HPV and manage your symptoms should you develop it.

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