The Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, is more common than many realize. You can take proactive measures for prevention, early detection, and effective treatment. Here we’ll dive into the basics of HPV, from its definition and symptoms to its transmission.
What is HPV?
HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus, a group of related viruses that can cause warts on different parts of the body.
There are more than 100 types of the HP virus and around 40 of these virus types can infect the reproductive organs. At least 14 HPV types are classified as “high-risk” types and can cause cancer, such as cervical cancer in women.
The most common high-risk HPVs are types 16 and 18, which cause about 70% of all cervical cancers. Other high-risk types include 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58. Apart from cervical, high-risk HPV can also lead to anal, oropharyngeal (throat), and penile cancers.
Symptoms of HPV
HPV can show itself in various ways:
- Warts: Common warts (rough bumps on the hands), plantar warts (hardened growths on the feet), and flat warts (flat-topped lesions).
- Genital warts: Small bump clusters or flesh-toned swellings in the genital area.
- Respiratory papillomatosis: Warts in the airways leading from the lungs.
Some HPV types don’t cause any noticeable symptoms but can lead to cancer.
How is HPV transmitted?
HPV is usually spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact:
- Sexual activity, including vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
- Non-sexual skin-to-skin contact can also spread the virus.
- Some types can be transmitted through shared objects like towels.
Protecting Yourself from HPV
There are several steps to reduce the risk of contracting or spreading HPV:
- HPV vaccine: Available for all genders, it protects against the most common high-risk and wart-causing types.
- Safe sexual practices: Use condoms or dental dams. While they don’t provide 100% protection, they significantly reduce risk.
- Regular screenings: Especially for people with a cervix, this helps in early detection of any cellular changes.
- Avoid smoking: Smoking can weaken the immune system, making it harder to fight off an HPV infection.
Getting tested (or testing yourself) for HPV
It is recommended to get tested every three years.
- Pap tests are testing the cervix for abnormal cells that might lead to cancer.
- HPV tests checks for the virus itself and is recommended for women and people with a cervix over 30 and those with abnormal Pap results.
- DNA tests detect high-risk HPV strains.
Omgyno offers a HPV home-test for all of you who prefer to take matters into their own hands. With this molecular home test you test yourself for the presence of 49 types of HPV and the high-risk strains which can lead to cervical cancer. Simply take a sample and get your diagnosis from our labs. In case of any concerns, you can talk to one of our certified doctors via a telemedicine session via Zoom.
What To Do If You Discover You Have HPV
Finding out you have HPV can be daunting, but remember, it’s a common virus.
First, you should always talk to a doctor in order to understand the type of HPV and its implications. Also, inform your partners. It’s essential to let current, past and future partners know, so they can also get tested and make informed decisions.
Stay informed and get regular screenings. Especially, if you have a high-risk type, your doctor will recommend regular screenings.
Treatments for HPV
Most HPV infections don’t require treatment and go away on their own. However Warts can be treated with over-the-counter remedies or prescribed medications. More stubborn warts might require procedures like cryotherapy, laser therapy, or surgery.
Furthermore, in terms of HPV-associated cancers, regular screening can help detect these cancers early. Treatment might include surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation.
How often should you get tested?
All individuals with cervixes, including cisgender women, trans men, and some non-binary individuals, should get regular cervical screenings for potential HPV-related changes. For women and other people with a cervix, it depends on age and health history:
- Women 21-29: Pap test every three years.
- Women 30-65: Pap & HPV co-test every five years or Pap test alone every three years.
- Women over 65: Speak to your doctor about continued screening.
HPV might be common, but with knowledge and timely actions, its impact can be minimized. Also, regular screenings, safe practices, and informed decisions about treatment can keep the virus in check, ensuring a healthier life for all.