What is HPV?

According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), most sexually active people will acquire HPV at one point in their lives. This is what you should know.

HPV stands for Human Papilloma Virus; it is a virus that has around 150 different strains, the majority of which are not problematic or cancer-causing, according to ACOG.

About 13 of these 150 have been discovered to have the ability to cause cancer, including cervical and anal cancers. HPV is transmitted sexually and can affect both men and women, this is why vaccines are offered for both boys and girls and are highly recommended for protecting patients from an early age. This is especially important due to the fact that most HPV infections occur in young adults making early prevention key.

Prevention

HPV is one of three sexually transmitted infections that have a vaccine available. This vaccine is typically given to boys and girls at or before 15 years of age and is given in three dosages about 6-12 months away from each other. If you were never vaccinated as a child or teen, you can be vaccinated up until around 24 years of age.

Furthermore, like any other STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection), risk of HPV can be substantially lowered by practicing safe sex. HPV can be transmitted via oral, vaginal, or anal sex therefore the use of condoms every time you engage in any type of sex act can greatly reduce your risk of infection.

Symptoms

Some strains of the HPV virus are labeled “high-risk” which means they put you at a higher risk for developing cancer. This infection type is often asymptomatic, with little to no changes that could signal disease. This is where the importance of the annual pap smear lies; testing yearly can help catch any changes in early stages before they can develop into cancer. A symptom that may occur in patients with more advanced disease can be abnormal bleeding in between periods or bleeding/spotting after intercourse, although these symptoms don’t always signal disease.

Strains labeled “low-risk” mean they have a low probability of becoming cancer and instead can present as warts that typically appear around the genital area and anus. These are usually benign and treatable.

As always, consult your doctor for more information and/or personal evaluation.

Treatment

There is currently no treatment for HPV but most HPV infections will be undetectable after 2 to 3 years. However, things that can arise from HPV, like cancer or warts, can be treated. Remember prevention is key and the sooner a presence of HPV can be detected the higher the chances to get a satisfactory resolution. Keep this in mind and make sure you schedule your pap smear annually.