HUMAN PAPILLOMAVIRUS (HPV)
WHAT IS HPV?
HPV stands for human papillomavirus, but there are more than 100 related viruses in this group. HPV lives in the body's epithelial cells. These are flat and thin cells found on the skin's surface and on the surface of the vagina, anus, vulva, cervix, penis head, mouth, and throat.
HOW DO PEOPLE GET HPV?
Sexual contact: These viruses are spread through contact with infected genital skin, mucous membranes, or bodily fluids, and can be passed through intercourse and oral sex.
Body contact: HPV can infect skin not normally covered by a condom, so using a condom does not fully protect someone from the virus.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF HPV?
Mostly asymptomatic: Often, people don't have any symptoms and the HPV infection goes away on its own.
Warts: Of the 100 HPV types, about 60 types cause warts on areas such as the hands or feet. The other 40 or so types of HPV are sexually transmitted and are drawn to the body's mucous membranes, such as the moist layers around the anal and genital areas.
WHAT CAN RESULT FROM HPV?
Some types of HPV can lead to cervical cancer or cancer of the anus or penis.
WHEN SHOULD I GET TESTED FOR HPV?
Combining the Pap test with the HPV test is appropriate for women ages 30 and over. This test (which should be repeated every five years) helps women and their doctors learn if a woman is at high risk or low risk for developing cervical cancer.
HOW IS HPV DIAGNOSED?
In the HPV test, a doctor takes a swab of cells from the cervix, just as for the Pap test. The cells are then analyzed in a laboratory to identify 13-14 of the high-risk HPV types associated with cervical cancer.
WHAT IS THE TREATMENT FOR HPV?
If the HPV infection has caused abnormal cell changes that could lead to cervical cancer, there are four main treatment options:
a) Cryotherapy. This involves freezing the abnormal cells with liquid nitrogen.
b) Conization. This procedure, also known as a cone biopsy, removes the abnormal areas.
c) Laser therapy uses light to burn away abnormal cells.
d) Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP). The abnormal cells are removed with an electrical current.
The goal is to remove all the abnormal cells and thus remove most or all of the cells with HPV. However, you should watch and wait. Sometimes the cell changes, precancerous cell changes, or cervical intraepithelial neoplasia, will heal on their own.