HPV is not something many people want to talk about. Since it is a sexually transmitted disease, it is often embarrassing to ask questions about it. It is more common than you might think affecting over 79 million people in the United States. Every year, there are 14 million new cases diagnosed. Research shows that almost all men and women who have been sexually active suffer from HPV at one time or another.
It needs to be addressed and treated to prevent severe complications. This article will provide you with needed information on HPV and how it can be managed.
HPV stands for “Human Papilloma Virus” and is a sexually transmitted disease. It is viral and there is not cure. HPV causes genital warts that if left untreated can lead to cancer. The virus is spread via vaginal, anal, and/or oral sex with someone who has it. There often are no symptoms, but the person will still be contagious. Anyone who has sex is at risk for HPV. It also may take years for symptoms to develop.
For many people, their body fights off the HPV virus and it clears without any issues. If the virus doesn’t clear, then it can cause health issues. One of those issues is cancer. HPV is the cause of cervical cancer, but it can also be located in other places.
You acquire HPV by touching the skin or body fluids of an infected person. The virus can get in via cuts, scratches, and the actual skin. Genital HPV can be transmitted to the throat and respiratory tract through oral sex with an infected person. Although rare, mothers with HPV can give the virus to their baby during birth.
There are often no symptoms at all for HPV and it could be very advanced when symptoms appear. The symptoms include:
Genital Warts. These tend to look like tiny cauliflower, finger-like bumps, or may even be flat. They are usually on or around the opening to the vagina and the cervix. Men may experience then on or around the penis.
Other Symptoms. Other non-specific symptoms are; irregular bleeding, bleeding after sex, back pain, leg pain, and fatigue, loss of weight, leg swelling, and vaginal discharge.
Certain things can increase the risk of getting HPV including:
Sex prior to the age of 16
Suppressed immune system
More than one sexual partner
There are no blood tests for HPV. Testing involves seeing the lesions and taking a sample of fluids in the areas (Pap test). It is recommended that sexually active women up to age 49 have this test yearly. It needs to be done more often if the test comes back abnormal. There are actually three different types of this test:
Pap Test with Liquid Based Cytology
Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid (The doctor stains the lesions and looks at them)
HPV Testing for high risk types (Some forms are more apt to cause cancer)
If you are diagnosed with HPV, the doctor will schedule a colposcopy of the cervix to take samples of the lesions and give them a grade called, cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) and number I, II, or III. Treatment is based on the grade as follows:
CIN I. This can be followed up and watched with a Pap smear every 6 months. The colposcopy is repeated every time the PAP comes back abnormal.
CIN II. If the disease is more advanced and colposcopy fails to stop the spread, a cone biopsy is performed that takes out the inner cone of the cervix.
CIN III. If the disease advances to this stage, a LEEP procedure is done. This is a “loop electrosurgical excision” of the lesions and cauterizes the inside of the cervix.
It is important to understand that any of the procedures that take out part of the cervix can increase the risk for miscarriage. The only permanent treatment is hysterectomy with removal of the cervix. However, the virus will still persist.
Follow Up with Frequent Pap Smears. Don’t put off follow up pap smears. HPV can progress to cervical cancer without symptoms.
Talk to Your Partner. Over 75 percent of people who are reproductive age have the HPV virus and it is nothing to be ashamed of. Try to get rid of the shame factor and talk about HPV. Just be honest about your diagnosis and make an informed decision together on how your will handle sex. Use a condom always.
There are a few things you can try with your doctor’s okay. These natural remedies may help increase the body’s ability to fight off the virus. These include:
Antioxidants. Vitamin E and CoQ-10 may help ward off cancer cells. Some studies have shown this combination can lower evidence of cervical dysplasia.
Folic Acid. Low folic acid may increase the risk of cervical dysplasia. If you are of childbearing age, it is always a good idea to get enough folic acid in your diet or ask your doctor about supplements.
Vitamin C. This is another antioxidant that can help the body repair itself properly. It helps to boost the immune system and may fight off cervical dysplasia.
Green Tea Extract. Green tea extract may inhibit the growth of cervical cells and lesions. Some people even use an ointment made from green tea directly on any lesions that are outside the body. For internal lesions, there are supplements available.
The complications of HPV include cancerous lesions that can appear anywhere. However, it is the most common cause of cervical cancer in women. The cancer is silent and usually has no symptoms until it is advanced. Getting an annual pap smear and treating the lesions is one way to prevent this complication.
Other types of HPV can cause wart like growths in the mouth, throat, nose, anus, or penis. Men with genital warts are also at increased risk for reproductive or urinary tract cancer.
There is an HPV vaccine called, Gardasil. It is recommended that all females and males start the series between the ages of 11 and 12 to give the body immunity towards the cancer causing strains of HPV. It is a three vaccine series given over a six month period of time. The vaccine can be given up to the age of 26 if not given in childhood. It should also be given to anyone who is immunocompromised and only effective if the person is not yet sexually active.
In under 10 years since the vaccines were released, the level of diagnosed cases of HPV is dropping dramatically. There has also been a drop in the number of abnormal pap smears in women. Research into more effective vaccines to target more strains of HPV is ongoing.