An Overview of High-Risk HPV
Did you know HPV is a group of more than 200 related viruses? There are different HPV types, some of which can cause cancer. Most HPV types do not cause cancer, so they are called low-risk. But when an HPV type increases the risk of cancer, it is called high-risk HPV.
High-risk HPV acts differently in the body because it infects cells and causes them to grow and multiply abnormally. As a result, the immune system manages the problem by attempting to eliminate the virus causing abnormal cellular growth.
In many cases, the immune system can eradicate HPV before anything precancerous forms from the abnormal cells. However, in the small percentage of cases where a person’s immune system cannot eliminate HPV, the abnormal cells could become precancerous and increase the risk of cancer developing.
HPV-related cancer can develop anywhere in the genital region, especially in the cervix, vulva, and vagina for women. For instance, if HPV causes abnormal changes to the cervical glandular cells and then results in cancer, the name of the cancer would be adenocarcinoma.
What HPV Types Are High-Risk?
HPV types are assigned numbers to tell them apart. For example, some numbers associated with high-risk HPV types are 39, 33, 52, 59, 68, 16, and 18, but there are more. All these high-risk HPV types are known to increase the risk of anogenital cancers like cervical cancers. That is why doctors call them oncogenic HPV types.
HPV types 16 and 18 lead to cervical cancer more than any other HPV type. Fortunately, not everyone infected with HPV type 16 or 18 will develop cervical cancer. But it is imperative to seek advice and treatment from a physician to reduce the chance of cancer development.
What HPV Types are Low-Risk?
The numbers assigned to low-risk HPV types are 81, 72, 70, 61, 54, 44, 43, 42, 11, and 6. A person infected with a low-risk HPV type may experience some or no symptoms. If there are symptoms, they are usually something non-cancerous and unharmful like genital lesions.
HPV types 6 and 11 are best known for causing non-cancerous genital warts and lesions. It is rare to develop cancerous lesions from any low-risk HPV type.
Symptoms of High-Risk HPV
The immune system is not always powerful enough to eliminate high-risk HPV infections from the body. That is why nearly 70% of precancerous cervical growth cases and cervical cancer cases come from high-risk HPV types 16 and 18. Furthermore, HPV accounts for 2% of American male cancer cases and 3% of American female cancer cases. Most of these cases involve cancer somewhere in the genital region of the person.
Having cervical cancer isn’t always apparent immediately because symptoms don’t usually develop until much later. But if you experience any symptoms, they may include pelvic pain, unusual vaginal bleeding, unusual vaginal discharge (blood, foul odor), and pain during sexual intercourse.
High-risk HPV may cause cancer to develop in other places besides the cervix. For instance, other common HPV-based cancers are anal cancer, oropharyngeal cancer, penile cancer, vaginal cancer, and vulval cancer.
Treatments for High-Risk HPV
There is no cure or treatment to eradicate an HPV infection. It is up to your immune system to eliminate it, but that doesn’t always happen when infected with high-risk HPV.
If your high-risk HPV infection doesn’t go away, you can still seek treatment to reduce the symptoms and prevent other possible health problems from forming due to the infection.
The best example is when genital warts form from a high-risk HPV infection. About 30% of HPV-infected people with genital warts will see their warts disappear after a while without outside treatment.
You could remove warts faster using a topical prescription gel or cream or getting surgery. Of course, if there are signs of precancerous cells due to your high-risk HPV infection, your doctor will highly recommend surgery to remove them.
The surgical removal of precancerous cells from a woman’s cervix is called loop electrosurgical excision. Alternatively, a treatment called cervical cryotherapy is another way to remove the cells.
Overall, the best method for treating HPV-based cancers depends on the cancer type, its location in the body, and the cancer stage. Based on these factors, your doctor may recommend cancer treatments like radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, or surgery.
More consumers are also taking their health into their own hands by building their natural immune system through better awareness of HPV, diet, exercise, better sleep, more frequent testing, and supporting their immunity with natural HPV preventing supplements such as AHCC.
Best Ways to Prevent High-Risk HPV Infections
Preventative measures offer the best results for stopping high-risk HPV infections before they start.
The first step is to receive the HPV vaccine if you haven’t gotten it already. Gardasil 9 is the most common HPV vaccine distributed in the United States. It offers protection against numerous high-risk HPV types, such as HPV Type 16 and 18. It can even protect you against the low-risk HPV types that cause genital warts.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends receiving the HPV vaccine starting at 11 and 12. But if you are 27 or older and have never received an HPV vaccine, it would be better to talk with your doctor before getting it. This is because older people have already been sexually active and likely contracted HPV in the past unknowingly. As a result, the HPV vaccine wouldn’t be as effective for them.
The HPV vaccine has two doses for people under 15. They must take each dose at least six months apart. As for people older than 14 and under 27, they must get three doses of the vaccine. Approximately 98% of HPV-vaccinated people will build antibodies that protect against high-risk HPV types.
Please note, that you should still take additional precautions to reduce the risk of an HPV infection even if you have been vaccinated. These precautions may include reducing the number of people you have sex with regularly and practicing safe sex (e.g., condoms, dental dams, etc.)