Most people infected with human papillomavirus (HPV) do not develop symptoms. Not only that, but their immune systems will usually destroy the virus before it has time to cause something worse in their bodies, such as abnormal cell changes and cancer.
However, a small percentage of HPV-infected people will experience symptoms like genital warts and precancerous cell growth. People with genital warts usually have a low-risk HPV type that does not cause cancer. As for the people with precancerous cell growth, they likely have a high-risk HPV type, such as HPV-16 or HPV-18.
Do You Have an HPV Infection?
You may already have an HPV infection without realizing it. If you don’t experience any symptoms, you won’t know if you have an HPV infection unless you undergo a physical examination by a doctor.
Doctors can diagnose HPV by studying the cell activity of various areas of your body, such as your cervix. It is standard practice for women to undergo a pap test, where their doctor or gynecologist takes a sample of their cervical cells to look for abnormal growth. If they detect any cell abnormalities or HPV genetic material in the cells, they can usually pinpoint the HPV type causing the problem. Unfortunately, there is no similar HPV test available for men to detect for penile cancer or anal cancer.
Are you a female with an HPV diagnosis? If your doctor believes you have a high-risk HPV infection known for causing cancer, they will want you to undergo more frequent pap testing to monitor the abnormal cell growth activity in the cervix. It is imperative to keep up with the testing because the doctor needs to ensure the abnormal cells are not growing too rapidly. You have a much higher risk of developing cervical cancer if they are.
Pregnant women or women looking to become pregnant should talk with their doctors before undergoing any HPV treatment. Usually, a doctor would advise the woman to wait until she gives birth before starting treatment.
What HPV Treatments Are Available?
Your doctor probably will not recommend treatments for your HPV infection until they notice significant abnormal or precancerous cell changes. At that point, they will recommend one of four effective treatments for reducing the growth of the abnormal cells. These treatments are as follows:
Cryotherapy for HPV is when the doctor uses carbon dioxide or liquid nitrogen to freeze the abnormal cells to prevent them from growing further.
Conization is a cone biopsy, meaning the doctor will surgically remove a portion of the abnormal cervical cell tissue. That way, the abnormal cells in the tissue cannot spread to other healthy tissues and cells of the cervix.
Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure
The loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) utilizes an electrical current to remove the abnormal cells and sometimes the HPV-infected cells. LEEP treatment for HPV is the newest and most sophisticated procedure and has gained much attention for its effectiveness.
Treatments for Genital Warts
Genital warts are not life-threatening, but you may want to remove them because of their ugly appearance and the potential discomfort they may cause you.
Your doctor probably will not want to prescribe medications for your genital warts if they first appeared recently. Since many cases of genital warts will go away within six months, your doctor may want to wait and see if your genital warts go away on their own.
If your warts do not go away, two possible treatment options to reduce their size are Imiquimod (e.g., Zyclara, Aldara) and Podofilox (e.g., Condylox).
Podofilox should eradicate your visible warts within a month. Over 50% of users experience this outcome.
Imiquimod will help strengthen your immune system to eradicate HPV naturally. It can temporarily eliminate the warts, but they will usually return at some point.
Consult Your Doctor
Your doctor can monitor your condition and suggest the best possible treatments for dealing with the symptoms and their underlying cause.