What is genital HPV infection?
HPV (human papillomavirus) is a group of over a hundred viruses that are transmitted sexually and usually do not have any symptoms. As many as 50% of sexually active Americans will get HPV without knowing it; most cases will resolve on their own without any treatment. However, there are a few types of HPV that are much more dangerous. These can lead to cancer of the genitals, including the penis, vagina, cervix, and anus.
How common is HPV?
HPV is pretty common. The CDC estimates that about 20 million people are infected in the United States, and about half of all sexually active people will get HPV at some point in their lives.
How do people get genital HPV?
The most common way to contract HPV is through sexual contact. Since it so rarely presents with symptoms, it is spread most of the time by people who don’t even know they are infected.
What are the symptoms of genital HPV?
Most of the people who are infected do not have any signs or symptoms because virus lives in the skin or mucus membrane and causes no symptoms.
Some visible signs:
- Visible genital warts
- Changes in cells of the cervix, vulva, or penis which can lead to cancer
How is HPV diagnosed?
Since some strains of HPV are related to cervical cancer and need to be caught early for the most effective treatment, all women are encouraged to get regular Pap testing. This test identifies HPV that is present in the cells lining the cervix, and also checks for cells that are showing early signs of cervical cancer. LivingWell Pregnancy Centers offers low cost Well Woman Exams, which include Pap testing.
Is there a cure for HPV?
No, there is no cure for HPV. Most cases will resolve on their own without any symptoms of illness at all! There are vaccines available that protect against the four most dangerous strains of HPV, the ones that cause the most cases of cervical cancer. However, these vaccines do not protect against the transmission of other STIs, and they only protect against the four most virulent strains of HPV. It is still possible to contract another strain of HPV when you’ve been vaccinated, and it’s also possible to get cervical cancer. So don’t skip out on your regular Pap test just because you received the HPV vaccine!
Connection between HPV infection and cervical cancer
Out of over a hundred strains of HPV, about 30 can infect the genital region. Several of these have been discovered to produce changes in the cells they infect that make those cells more likely to become cancerous. Scientists estimate that 99% of cervical cancer cases are caused by the HPV virus. About 70% of those are caused by just two specific “high risk” strains of HPV.
If you want to find out more, here are some websites with accurate information about HPV: