The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a disease transmitted through sexual activity and the prime cause of cervical cancer. This form of cancer was once the most common cause of cancer death for American women. Now with the ability to perform Pap tests, early detection has improved survival rates. Cervical cancer is still a leading cause of cancer death for women; however, in low-resource countries.
What is HPV (Human Papillomavirus)
HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that has become increasingly common. There are over two-hundred forms of HPV, with about forty of them that can infect your genital area, including the cervix, rectum, anus, penis, vagina, vulva, and scrotum. This virus can also affect your throat and mouth as well. There are also other forms of HPV that can cause warts such as plantar warts on your feet, or hand warts, but these are not sexually transmitted.
HPV infections in the genital area are usually not harmful and will disappear by themselves. Other forms of HPV can create certain types of cancer and genital warts. Two types, HPV 6 and 11, cause the higher number of cases of genital warts which are considered low-risk HPV as they do not develop into cancer or other serious health concerns.
- Genital warts appear on the skin around the anus and genitals. You are susceptible to getting these warts through skin-to-skin contact from someone infected. This contact is often with the vagina, anus, or through the actions of oral sex. These warts can spread, even if you are not seeing visible signs of their presence, or are not experiencing any symptoms. Genital warts can also be passed along through vaginal childbirth, although these cases are rare.
There are approximately twelve forms of HPV that can develop into cancer, though HPV 16 and 18 are the leading cause. These two forms are considered high-risk, and the most common cancer associated with them is cervical cancer. These forms of HPV can also cause cancer to develop in the throat, mouth, penis, anus, vulva, and vagina.
There has been no cure for HPV discovered, but there are many ways to prevent it from negatively impacting your life and health. Vaccines are now available to help protect you from getting specific types of HPV. If genital warts develop, they can be removed by a doctor or nurse, and high-risk HPV if detected early, can be treated before it develops into cancer.
Symptoms of High-Risk HPV
People do not generally feel or display any signs or symptoms when they have high-risk HPV until the disease causes serious health problems. Regular screenings and checkups are vital to detect the virus and treat it as soon as possible. Cervical cancer can be prevented if abnormal cell changes appear in a woman’s Pap smear test. If not detected, and left untreated, these abnormal cell changes can develop into cervical cancer.
The Pap smear test finds if there are any abnormal cells in your cervix. It is not a test to determine the presence of HPV or cancer, but it can detect any unusual cell changes that may be occurring, and that is most likely a result of HPV.
- Pap tests or Pap smears are necessary tests for detecting abnormal cells in the cervix, which could become cancerous. These tests are typically part of a regular annual checkup or well-woman exam with your healthcare provider. The American Cancer Society has recently stated that the Pap test does not need to be performed each year, and can instead be done every third year. This change is only if no abnormal cells have been detected in previous tests.
During a Pap test, a metal speculum is placed into the vagina to separate the walls of the vagina. This opening will allow the doctor or nurse to reach your cervix and take a small sample of cells. The cervical cells will then be tested in a lab under a microscope to determine if any abnormalities exist.
It is recommended that the Pap test begin being a part of your well-health checkups once you reach the age of twenty-one. Between the ages of 21 to 29, the tests are recommended every three years. Once you reach the age of 30 and until the age of 65, you should receive a test once every five years along with a test for HPV every three years. By the age of 65, the Pap test is no longer necessary.
There are no tests for the presence of high-risk HPV in the throat, anus, vulva, or penis, and the virus will not display any symptoms. Once it becomes cancer, it will then show signs, such as:
- Anal cancer can cause itching, pain, anal bleeding, or discharge, along with a change in bowel habits.
- Throat cancer may create a sore throat, constant coughing, trouble or painful breathing or swallowing, mass or lump in the neck, weight loss, or ear pain that will not go away.
- Penile cancer can cause the skin of the penis becoming a different thickness or color, or painful sores appearing on the penis.
- Vulvar cancer may cause the skin of the vulva to change color or thickness. There may also be itching, chronic pain, or a lump may develop in the area.
Any display of the above symptoms should be treated by a healthcare professional. Talk to your doctor at Gyn LA if you are experiencing any of these conditions.
Does High-Risk HPV Develop into Cancer?
High-risk HPV turns healthy cells into abnormal cells. Abnormal cells can develop into cancer over time. High-risk HPV generally affects the cells in the cervix but is also able to create cancer in the penis, throat, anus, vulva, and vagina. The good news regarding this virus is that people can recover from many infections developing from HPV. That is why some of the infections grow into more severe health issues such as cancer when precancerous cell changes have not been discovered. One thing known is that if you have another disease, it may be difficult for your system to fight infections and more likely that HPV can develop into cancer. One contributing factor found is that smoking can also make HPV more likely to develop into cancer of the cervix.
HPV has no cure; the virus can take several years for cancer to develop. During this time, abnormal cells in the cervix can be found and treated, so they do not turn into cancer. Most HPV infections are not serious and are often temporary, so you do not have to spend much energy worrying about whether or not you are carrying the HPV. By receiving regular screenings, including HPV and Pap tests, you should significantly eliminate your risk of developing cervical cancer.
Difference Between Genital Warts and HPV
Genital warts are generally harmless growths on the skin of your scrotum, anus, penis, cervix, vulva, or vagina. These warts most often look like soft, fleshy bumps that look a lot like a small cauliflower. The warts are generally not painful and are often treated and removed just like any other wart you would see growing on your feet or hands.
A healthcare professional would have to diagnose genital warts to determine if they are low-risk HPV. These warts typically are not dangerous and do not often lead to cancer, but they can be uncomfortable and irritating. With the warts present, you could pass HPV on to other people, so it is important that if any warts appear, you check with your physician at Gyn LA to determine if they should be removed or treated.
Testing for HPV
HPV is such a common infection that generally goes away on its own; most do not even know they are carrying the virus. A common way for a woman to discover she has the virus is through an abnormal result on her Pap test. The test results do not confirm that HPV is present; it detects abnormalities in the cells of the cervix, which are an indication HPV exists. There is also an HPV test that can detect high-risk forms of the virus in certain situations.
The HPV test carries the same risk as any other test in that it can result in a false-positive or false-negative finding. The false-positive would indicate you have a high-risk type of HPV when you do not. These results could lead to procedures you do not need, such as a biopsy, colposcopy, and unnecessary anxiety due to the test results. The false-negative results do not show you have an HPV infection, and because the test didn’t reveal its presence, you are delayed appropriate medical follow-up tests or treatments. Talk to your doctor at Gyn LA about these possibilities and how they can be avoided or double-checked for accuracy.
When getting ready for HPV testing, there are no special preparations needed. The HPV test is usually performed at the same time as a Pap test so you should avoid intercourse, vaginal medicines, douching, or jellies, cremes, and spermicidal foams for two days before the test. You should also try to schedule the test when you are not experiencing your menstrual period. The test is still possible during this time of the month, but it is better to collect the sample of cells at other days of your cycle.
The HPV tests involve collecting cells from your cervix to see if there are any abnormalities present or if there is any cancer present. The HPV sample and the Pap smear sample are completed using the same cell collection from your cervix. Once the procedure is done, you will be able to go about your regular daily routine.
Results from the HPV test will come back as either negative or positive.
- Receiving a positive HPV test result indicates that you have a high-risk HPV which can be linked to cervical cancer. These results do not suggest that you have cancer, but that you are a likely candidate to develop cervical cancer. A positive test is much like a warning for you that conditions exist in your cervix for cancer to grow and it would be highly recommended that you perform a follow-up test within a year to check if the infection cleared or grew.
- A negative HPV test indicates you do not have any of the forms of HPV that are likely to cause cancer.
The results will determine the course of action your healthcare physician will recommend. They may request routine monitoring if you are over the age of 30 and continue with recommended schedules for repeating tests every five years. They may want to perform a colposcopy to look more closely at your cervix, or a biopsy to look more closely at the cervical cells under a microscope. Another recommendation could be to remove abnormal cervical cells detected before they develop into cancerous cells.
Why Vaccinate for HPV
New research is showing that the HPV vaccine can do more than prevent cervical cancer. Since HPV is linked to penile, vaginal, anal, and throat cancers, the vaccine is becoming more effective in stopping cancer than what was first thought.
The vaccine for HPV is not live but does protect against four significant forms of HPV, including two kinds of cervical cancer and two types of genital warts. Getting the HPV vaccine will help in preventing these diseases. It is a long-lasting vaccine, but should still be followed up with regular screenings.
The vaccine is recommended to be started for girls between the ages of 11 and 12 and boys around the age of 9. It is essential to receive the vaccine before sexual contact is made to ensure there has been no contact with the virus. When treated early, the HPV vaccine can prevent almost 100% risk of the disease.
The HPV vaccination is given in a three-dose series. The first dose when the teen or young adult reaches the recommended age, again two months from the time of the first dose and the third should be received six months after the first dose. There are no additional boosters needed for this vaccine, and it can be administered at the same time other vaccinations are received.
Find Information and Treatment for HPV Near Me
If you are concerned about HPV in regards to possible infection, vaccinations, or potential treatments, call Gyn LA at 310-375-8446. Our medical team of advanced gynecologists are able to provide you with high-quality care and treat you with compassion and the confidence you deserve.