The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has determined that HPV is the most prevalent virally spread sexually transmitted disease (STD) in America. Among sexually active individuals, more than half will have HPV during their lifetime.
100 Different Types of HPV
Of these, approximately 40 are known to infect both female and male genitalia. There are two types of genital HPV:
- Low risk: These types can be totally harmless or cause HPV related genital warts
- High risk: These types are more likely to lead to some form of cancer, such as cervical cancer
How Women Become Infected with HPV
You can become infected with HPV if your skin touches the infected skin of someone who has it. Women can get it through oral, vaginal, hand-genital, or anal sex with a partner who has HPV. Someone can have HPV without any visible signs, yet they can still infect others. Also, people can have two or more types of HPV simultaneously. Partners with HPV who are in a monogamous long-standing sexual relationship will likely be infected with the same type(s) of HPV.
Sexually active individuals have a good chance of getting genital HPV during their lifetime. You are at greater risk of being infected with genital HPV if:
- You have a weakened immune system due to HIV/AIDS or cancer, or as a result of taking certain medications that are known to compromise the immune system
- You are a smoker
- You have had sex with multiple partners
- You started having sex at an early age
HPV Symptoms in Women
In most cases there are no symptoms that you can either feel or see that will tell you that you have HPV. Years can have gone by since you had sex with an HPV infected person, so you might never know who gave it to you.
HPV Can Cause:
- Genital warts: Comes from a low-risk viral infection
- Cancer: Comes from a high-risk viral infection. The most common is cervical cancer, but you can also get vaginal, vulvar, anal, tongue, throat, and/or tonsil cancers, which are not as common
HPV Testing for Women
The majority of women infected with HPV have no idea because they have no obvious symptoms. Luckily, most cases of HPV disappear within two years with no treatment, so a lot of women never find out that they were ever infected. On the other hand, there are cases in which an HPV infection causes genital warts, which are felt and/or seen. The only way you will know for sure whether you are infected with HPV is if you are tested for HPV. And while you’re being tested for HPV you may as well ask your physician to examine or test you for other STDs. Become aware of the facts on HPV and how it is transmitted.
High-risk HPV infections can lead to cervical cancer. To determine whether there are any changes in your cervix due to HPV, you need to regularly get Pap smear tests. Your physician will advise you as to when to start these tests, how often you should have them, and when it’s safe to stop having your cervix tested.
Pap Smear Tests:
- Can detect any changes in the cervix that may be suspicious
- Should start being done within the first three years of becoming sexually active or at 21 years of age
- Can prevent cervical cancer through early detection and treatment of pre-cancerous cells
- Are performed by an OB/GYN or other health care provider who uses a stiff tiny brush to scrape off a sample of cells
- Can detect abnormal cervical cells due to HPV
- Can be performed at the same time as an HPV test in women 30 years of age or older if their Pap smear test showed abnormal cells, to determine if HPV is the cause
All women, from the age of 21 should have a Pap smear test on a regular basis.
HPV Treatment Options
Even though genital HPV is very prevalent among sexually active adults, most cases have no noticeable symptoms and go away on their own within two or three years with no treatment. There are quality nutrients on the market that will help support a healthy immune system such as the AHCC supplements that have been proven to help eradicate HPV in clinical testing. Additionally, if the infection does not go away, there are various treatments depending on whether it’s a low-risk or high-risk type of HPV:
Low-Risk HPV Causing Genital Warts
Even with treatment the infection may not go away, but if it does the warts can return. Treatments sold over the counter for skin warts should never be used on genital warts.
You can treat genital warts as follows:
- Have the warts regularly checked to see if they stay the same, grow larger, or disappear
- Medicine can be applied directly on genital warts
- Special lasers or lights can be used to destroy genital warts
- Genital warts can be burned or frozen off
- Genital warts can be surgically cut out
High-Risk HPV Infections
Pap smear tests can detect pre-cancerous changes to the cervix along with other types of abnormal cells. The most effective way of preventing cervical cancer is to remove all abnormal cells.
- Abnormal cervical cells in and around the cervix can be removed surgically without damaging the cervix or having to remove the woman’s uterus.
- Once the woman recovers, she will be able to get pregnant and carry the baby to term.
What Happens if an HPV Infection Has a Long Duration?
Low-Risk HPV Infections
As previously mentioned, low-risk types of HPV infections can lead to genital warts. If the warts are not treated, the following can happen:
- The warts can disappear on their own.
- The warts can stay the same.
- The warts can grow larger and/or increase in number.
High-Risk HPV Infections
High-risk HPV infections can cause the proliferation of abnormal cells in and around the cervix, which can lead to cancer without treatment. Nearly all cases of cervical cancers are considered to have been cause by HPV. Although many cases have no apparent symptoms, some early signs of cervical cancer may be the following:
- Vaginal discharge is more than usual.
- Vaginal discharge is watery, smells bad, pale, brown, or pink in color, or bloody.
- Vaginal bleeding occurs after sex, a pelvic medical exam, or douching.
- Vaginal bleeding occurs between periods.
- Menstrual periods last longer and/or are heavier than usual.
- Vaginal bleeding occurs after menopause.
- Painful sex.
- Vaginal/pelvic pain in general.
If you are infected with a high-risk type of HPV your odds of developing cervical cancer increase if:
- You are a smoker.
- Your immune system is compromised.
- You have not had adequate medical care or testing.
- You have given birth to four or more children.
- You were on birth control pills for over five years.
- Someone in your family has had cervical cancer.
A high-risk type of HPV infection is the root cause of nearly all cervical cancers.
How To Avoid HPV
- Get the HPV vaccination.
- HPV vaccines can protect the recipient from 70% of cervical cancers.
- One particular HPV vaccine provides protection from the low-risk type of HPV that leads to 90% of cases of genital warts.
- All females from age 9-26 should have the HPV vaccine.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) all boys and girls 11-12 years old should get the HPV vaccine.
- Refrain from all forms of sexual contact.
- Practice safer sex:
- Have fewer sexual partners.
- Use condoms correctly to reduce your risks of being infected with HPV which increases when you have unprotected sex. However, a condom may not fully cover infected areas. To be effective, a male and/or female type of condom must be put on/used every time you engage in sex. This includes before oral, vaginal, or anal sex.
- Have only one sexual partner (a monogamous relationship) who is not infected with HPV.
- Other types of birth control besides condoms do not offer protection from HPV.
As a reminder, condoms cannot completely protect you against HPV since the infection spreads to areas that the condom doesn’t cover.
Do Genital Warts Affect Pregnancy?
Genital warts hardly ever affect a woman’s pregnancy or childbirth. The majority of women whose genital warts can no longer be seen have no problems during pregnancy or giving birth. If you have a history of genital warts and find out that you’re pregnant, it’s important that you speak with your physician about treatment options as your genital warts could:
- Make it harder to urinate if located in your urinary tract, although this is rare.
- Become larger and start bleeding.
- Cause the vagina to be less able to stretch during birth if they are inside the vagina, although this is rare.
- Obstruct the birth canal, although this is rare. If this was the case you would need a C-section.
- Cause the warts to pass on to the newborn, although this is rare.
Again, if you are infected with HPV with a Pap smear test that showed abnormal cells and are now pregnant, it is important that you speak with your physician about treatments to make sure you have a safe pregnancy and healthy baby.
What To Do If You Diagnosed with HPV
- Get Pap smear tests on a regular basis.
- Consult with your physician or health care provider about getting treatment and the appropriate follow-up care.
You need to be aware that long-term sexual partners often have the same type of HPV, even if neither of you have any obvious symptoms.
For more information on HPV
If you are looking for more information on HPV you can reach out to the following:
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)
- Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)
- National Cancer Institute (NCI/HIH)
- S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS)