There are more than 100 varieties of human papillomavirus (HPV). Some types of HPV infection cause warts, and some can cause different types of cancer like cervical cancer.
Some types of genital HPV can cause cancer of the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina (cervix). Other types of cancers, including cancers of the anus, penis, vagina, vulva, and back of the throat (oropharyngeal), have been linked to HPV infection.
How can you tell you have been infected with Human Papilloma Virus?
In most cases, your body’s immune system defeats an HPV infection before it creates warts. When warts do appear, they vary in appearance depending on which kind of HPV is involved:
- Genital warts: These appear as flat lesions, small cauliflower-like bumps or tiny stemlike protrusions. In women, genital warts appear mostly on the vulva but can also occur near the anus, on the cervix or in the vagina. While in men, genital warts appear on the penis and scrotum or around the anus. Genital warts rarely cause discomfort or pain, though they may itch or feel tender.
- Common warts: Common warts appear as rough, raised bumps and usually occur on the hands and fingers. In most cases, common warts are simply unsightly, but they can also be painful or susceptible to injury or bleeding.
- Plantar warts: are hard, grainy growths that usually appear on the heels or balls of your feet. These warts might cause discomfort.
- Flat warts: Flat warts are flat-topped, slightly raised lesions. They can appear anywhere, but children usually get them on the face and men tend to get them in the beard area. Women tend to get them on the legs.
Cervical cancer and HPV
Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by HPV infections, but cervical cancer may take 20 years or longer to develop after an HPV infection. The HPV infection and early cervical cancer typically don’t cause noticeable symptoms.
Since early cervical cancer doesn’t cause symptoms, it’s vital that women have regular screening tests to detect any precancerous changes in the cervix that might lead to cancer. Current guidelines recommend that women ages 21 to 29 have a Pap test every three years.
Women ages 30 to 65 are advised to continue having a Pap test every three years, or every five years if they also get the HPV DNA test at the same time. Women over 65 can stop testing if they’ve had three normal Pap tests in a row, or two HPV DNA and Pap tests with no abnormal results.
How can you get infected with Human Papilloma Virus?
HPV infection occurs when the virus enters your body, usually through a cut, abrasion, or small tear in your skin. The virus is transferred primarily by skin-to-skin contact.
Genital HPV infections are contracted through sexual intercourse, anal sex, and other skin-to-skin contacts in the genital region. Some HPV infections that result in oral or upper respiratory lesions are contracted through oral sex.
Risk factors of Human Papilloma Virus Infection
HPV infections are common. Risk factors for HPV infection include:
- Number of sexual partners. The more sexual partners you have, the more likely you are to contract a genital HPV infection. Having sex with a partner who has had multiple sex partners also increases your risk.
- Age. Common warts occur mostly in children. Genital warts occur most often in adolescents and young adults.
- Weakened immune systems. People who have weakened immune systems are at greater risk of HPV infections. Immune systems can be weakened by HIV/AIDS or by immune system-suppressing drugs used after organ transplants.
- Damaged skin. Areas of skin that have been punctured or opened are more prone to develop common warts.
- Personal contact. Touching someone’s warts or not wearing protection before contacting surfaces that have been exposed to HPV — such as public showers or swimming pools — might increase your risk of HPV infection.
Not a lot of people know that there is a vaccine that protects you from Human Papilloma Virus.
The HPV vaccine is routinely recommended for girls and boys ages 11 or 12, although it can be given as early as age 9. It’s ideal for girls and boys to receive the vaccine before they have sexual contact and are exposed to HPV.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends that all 11- and 12-year-olds receive two doses of HPV vaccine at least six months apart.
Teens and young adults who begin the vaccine series later, at ages 15 through 26, should continue to receive three doses of the vaccine.
The CDC now recommends catch-up HPV vaccinations for all people through age 26 who aren’t adequately vaccinated.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved the use of Gardasil 9 for males and females ages 9 to 45.
Other ways you can prevent getting infected include:
- Practicing safe sex
- Not having multiple sexual partners
- Do not share needles or other sharp objects that may prick you.
- Good person hygiene
- Eat a balanced diet and take multivitamins to help boost your immunity
Are you already infected with HPV? There is hope still. Book an appointment to get a personalized diagnosis and treatment.