Human papillomavirus (HPV): Infections, Symptoms, Risk & Treatments

Human Papillomavirus

What is HPV disease?

Genital human papillomavirus (also called HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). There are more than 40 HPV types that can infect the genital areas of males and females. These HPV types can also infect the mouth and throat. Most people who become infected with HPV do not know they have it.

Genital HPV is a very common sexually transmitted infection which usually causes no symptoms and goes away by itself, but can sometimes cause serious illness. HPV is responsible for:

  • almost all cases of genital warts and cervical cancer
  • 90% of anal cancers
  • 65% of vaginal cancers
  • 50% of vulva cancers
  • 35% of penile cancers
  • 60% of oropharyngeal cancers (cancers of the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils).

Four out of five people have at least one type of HPV at some time in their lives. It is sometimes called the ‘common cold’ of sexual activity. HPV infects both men and women. The virus is spread through intimate contact with genital-skin during sexual activity, via tiny breaks in the skin. Usually this happens without anyone ever knowing it or it causing any problems.

Can HPV lead to cancer?

Yes, high-risk types of genital HPV can cause cancer of the cervix, vagina, vulva, anus, penis, and throat. The type of cancer HPV causes most often is cervicalcancer. Most HPV infections go away by themselves and don’t cause cancer. But abnormal cells can develop when high-risk types of HPV don’t go away.

How is HPV spread?

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 making it hard to know when you first became infected.

Human Papillomavirus

What is a HPV infection?

Infection with HPV (human papillomavirus) is very common. About 20 million people in the U.S. are affected. About 30 of the 100 HPV types are transmitted sexually. This HPV transmission can cause genital warts or abnormal cell changes in the cervix and other genital areas that can lead to cancer.

Symptoms of human papillomavirus infection

According to the CDC, most HPV infections go away on their own without any sign or symptom. This means that infected people may have unknowingly passed HPV to sexual partners.

For a minority of cases, the virus doesn’t go away and can cause serious health problems. These include genital warts and warts in the throat (known as recurrent respiratory papillomatosis, or RRP). HPV can also cause cervical cancer and other cancers of the genitals, head, neck, and throat.

The types of HPV that cause warts are different from the types that cause cancer. As such, having genital warts caused by HPV does not mean that you will develop cancer.

Cancers caused by HPV often don’t show symptoms until the cancer is in later stages of growth. Regular screenings can help diagnose HPV-related health problems earlier. This can improve outlook and increase chances of survival.

Can high risk HPV go away on its own?

Most highrisk HPV infections occur without any symptoms, go away within 1 to 2 years, and do not cause cancer. Some HPV infections, however, can persist for many years. Persistent infections with highrisk HPV types can lead to cell changes that, if untreated, may progress to cancer.

Is There a Treatment for High-Risk HPV?

There is currently no HPV treatment to cure HPV itself. Most HPV infections are harmless, do not require treatment, and go away by themselves. Treatment is available for the abnormal cell changes in the cervix that are caused by HPV. Common treatments include colposcopy, cryotherapy, and LEEP.

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