Human Papilloma virus (HPV)
HPV is a viral infection that commonly causes skin or mucous membrane growths (warts). It is the most common STD globally, and at least 50% of sexually active people will get it at some time in their lives. HPV is very easy to contract because the virus lives on the surface of a person’s skin. It means that someone can contract the virus through skin-to-skin contact with a person’s feet, hands, penis, mouth, vagina, or another mucus cavity. The body usually clears HPV on its own without causing any problems, but HPV can lead to certain kinds of cancer.
There are more than 100 different types of HPV. Most of the time, there are no symptoms, and the virus clears on its own, but several types can cause genital warts or lead to vaginal, anal, throat and cervical cancer. The types of HPV that cause warts do not cause cancer, but they can indicate a higher risk of having the types of HPV that are linked to cancer. The types of HPV that can cause cancer do not show any signs.
Image: HPV wart
Cancer of the cervix caused by the HPV virus.
Enlarged image of the virus & picture shows cancer growth on cervix.
Cervical Cancer: What are the early signs & symptoms?
- Blood spots or light bleeding between or following periods can be an early warning sign.
- Menstrual bleeding is longer and heavier than usual.
- Bleeding after intercourse, douching, or a pelvic examination. We have increased vaginal discharge.
- Pain during sexual intercourse. I was bleeding after menopause.
- Unexplained, persistent pelvic and back pain.
Cervical cancer grows slowly. The survival rate is 100% if it is diagnosed early.
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer that is spreading?
If you don’t go for regular PAP smear tests, cancer can spread undetected. You may experience the following:
- Pelvic pain
- Trouble passing urine
- Swollen legs
- Kidney failure
- Bone pain/ back pain
- Weight loss and lack of appetite
If you have an abnormal PAP smear, your doctor will do a colposcopy. It is an examination of the vagina with a unique instrument that magnifies the cells on the cervix. If your doctors see cells that look abnormal, he will do a biopsy of the cervix by taking a sample of the cells with a sharp instrument. It might feel uncomfortable, and you may experience some cramping, but it shouldn’t hurt. Once the results of the biopsy are back, your doctor will discuss treatment with you if necessary.
Is there a relation between HPV and HIV?
Both are viruses that cause sexually transmitted diseases, but they are different and have no relation. HPV can heal on its own while HIV stays for life. Persons who are HIV positive are much more susceptible to contract HPV, and their symptoms of HPV are much more severe. An HIV positive person needs to take care not to contract HPV.
Treatment of HPV
The body will usually clear HPV infections on its own within a couple of months. Warts can be treated in several different ways:
The patient can apply creams, gels, and solutions (prescribed by a health care provider)
A health care provider can
- freeze them off with liquid nitrogen
- burn them off with trichloroacetic acid or bi-chloroacetic acid
- apply a tincture or ointment that will remove the warts
- cut off warts using a scalpel, scissors, curette or electro-surgery
All of these options may take multiple treatments to obliterate warts.
Cancer-causing HPV can be monitored in females through regular Pap tests, but there is no specific treatment to eliminate HPV from the body. If the HPV causes abnormal cells to form, a health care provider will likely remove the cells and biopsy them. Depending on the type of abnormalities, the provider may recommend a colposcopy (a particular exam that magnifies the vagina and cervix) or LEEP (a procedure to remove the abnormal cells before they can cause cancer).
Prevention of HPV
The only 100% effective way to prevent HPV transmission is abstinence from any sexual contact, including oral, anal and vaginal sex.
Limit your sexual partners – to preferably just one. The more partners you have, the greater the chance of contracting HPV.
Be Circumcised. Research shows that the risk of HPV in men is lowered when they are circumcised. The risk of infecting their female sexual partners is also lower.
Get the Pap Test. It’s essential for women to have regular check-ups, including Pap smears, to look for cervical cancer in its earliest stages — when it is most treatable. The Pap smear is a test that checks for abnormalities in the cells that line the cervix and is one of the best ways to detect cervical cancer.
Don’t Have Sex Too Young. The younger you are when you start having sex, the greater your risk for HPV transmission. That’s because you’re more likely to come in contact with a partner who has HPV.
Eat a healthy diet that is low in fat and sugars and rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, vitamins, and minerals. Also, get regular exercise, don’t smoke, and don’t drink to excess. Keeping your body in good shape helps boost your immune system, and a healthy immune system can fight off infections, including some of the more than 100 types of HPV that are out there.
The HPV vaccine is an inactivated (not live) vaccine which protects against four major types of HPV.
These include two types that cause about 70% of cervical cancer and two types that cause about 90% of genital warts. The HPV vaccine can prevent most genital warts and most cases of cervical cancer.
Protection from the HPV vaccine is expected to be long-lasting. But vaccinated women still need cervical cancer screening because the vaccine does not protect against all HPV types that cause cervical cancer.
Who should get HPV vaccine and when?
The HPV vaccine is routinely recommended for girls 11 and 12 years of age. Doctors may give it to girls as young as nine years.
The HPV 4 vaccine (the type recommended for preventing genital warts in girls) may also be given in three doses to boys aged 9 to 26.
Why is the HPV vaccine given to girls at this age?
Girls need to get HPV vaccine before their first sexual contact — because they have not been exposed to HPV. For these girls, the vaccine can prevent almost 100% of disease caused by the four types of HPV targeted by the vaccine.
However, if a girl or woman is already infected with a type of HPV, the vaccine will not prevent the disease from that type.
The vaccine is also recommended for girls and women 13 through 26 years of age who did not receive it when they were younger.
The HPV vaccine is given as a 3-dose series:
1st Dose: Now
2nd Dose: 2 months after Dose 1
3rd Dose: 6 months after Dose 1
If you suspect that you might have contracted an STD, you can do a self-test quiz – the STD Quiz.
You can chat with an online counsellor on our helpline: LIVE CHAT.
It is a text-based chat and you may remain anonymous.