Human papilloma virus (HPV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly all people who are sexually active will get HPV at some point in their lives. The acronym is a term for a variety of strains, most of which are harmless.
HPV is a virus, which means that antibiotics can’t cure it. It’s transferred between sexual partners through anal, oral, and vaginal sex. A partner who doesn’t exhibit any symptoms of HPV can still spread it. Many strains of the virus don't have outward symptoms or health complications. However, some strains can lead to genital warts, and there are some that can cause cancer.
The human papilloma virus strains that cause genital warts aren’t the same as the ones that can lead to cancer. Genital warts usually are individual small bumps or small groups of bumps in the genital area or the area surrounding the anus. Depending on the individual, the warts may go away, stay the same, or grow. Some genital warts will come back after treatment. Luckily, out of the 100-plus strains of HPV, only two are known to cause genital warts.
There are approximately seven HPV strains that cause cancer. These strains aren’t cancer but rather lead to molecular changes in the body that can become cancerous. HPV strains that do not go away can lead to cancer, even years after becoming infected. HPV is known to cause cervical cancer in women, penile cancer in men, and anal cancer in both. Some HPV types can cause cancer in the back of the throat or tongue.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for HPV. There are, however, many ways to prevent it. HPV vaccines, which are relatively new to the market, are safe and effective. It's recommended that girls and boys be vaccinated at a young age, but you can get vaccinated if you've been sexually active.
Abstaining from sex can prevent HPV, and using a condom every time you have sex will greatly reduce your risk. If you are sexually active, you should have regular Pap smears to test for HPV. If you test positive, you will be asked to attend a follow-up appointment to see if the virus has progressed or disappeared.
If you would like to learn more about HPV, contact the Women's Medical Associates of Nashville.