Human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common causes of sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the world. Health experts estimate there are more cases of genital HPV infection than any other STI in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 6.2 million new cases of sexually transmitted HPV infections are reported every year. At least 20 million people in this country are already infected. If left untreated for many years, HPV has the potential to develop into cervical cancer.
Like many STIs, genital HPV infections often do not have signs and symptoms that can be seen or felt. One study sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases reported that almost half of women infected with HPV had no obvious symptoms. If you are infected but have no symptoms, you can still spread HPV to your sexual partner and/or develop complications from the virus.
When symptoms are present, they may include:
- Burning after intercourse
- Chronic vaginal discharge
- Warts on the vaginal opening or anus.
Often, it is up to the primary care physician or gynecologist to rule out the possibility of HPV. Warning signs for doctors to look for include abnormal Pap smears and frequent vaginal infections.
Types Of HPV
More than 100 different types of HPV exist, most of which are harmless. About 30 types are spread through sexual contact and are classified as either low risk or high risk. Some types of HPV that cause genital warts are considered low risk. High-risk types of HPV may cause abnormal Pap smear results and could lead to cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, or penis. Many people infected with HPV have no symptoms.
Some types of HPV cause common skin warts, such as those found on the hands and soles of the feet. These types of HPV do not cause genital warts.
Is HPV A Threat To You?
Experts estimate that over 85 percent of all women with cervical cancer at one time were infected with HPV. Age is no barrier to HPV. Women of all ages have been found to have HPV. All sexually active women are at risk, even those in a monogamous relationship.
Studies have shown that with proper detection and definitive treatment, the human papillomavirus should not progress to a cancerous stage. One reason why HPV is often not detected is the widespread reliance on only the Pap smear — often thought to be a fail-safe test for cervical disease. Historically, if a woman’s Pap smear came back “negative,” she was told that she was free of cervical disorders. Recent studies have shown that Pap smears often fail to diagnose HPV.
What Are The Causes Of HPV?
Although HPV is primarily spread by sexual contact, this is not always the case. Reports exist of infection from gym equipment, tanning beds, and shared towels.
Another cause is thought to be a depressed immune system — such as that caused by smoking. Some women may have also been born with the infection.
With Proper Detection And Treatment, HPV Rarely Progresses To Cervical Cancer
To halt the progress of the HPV epidemic, some healthcare providers recommend that every sexually active woman receive some sort of diagnostic test for human papillomavirus along with her Pap smear. An aggressive approach to chronic infections or a Pap smear showing inflammatory changes often discovers unsuspected HPV. If you have abnormal cervical cells, it is particularly important for you to have regular pelvic exams and Pap smears so you can be treated early if necessary.
Because of modern medical advances, procedures are available to help discover and treat diseases that were once responsible for disability and even death. The Thin Prep is a specialized Pap smear designed to eliminate errors by human technologists. This test adds to the cost of a Pap smear and may not be covered by insurance. Another test to diagnose HPV infection detects the HPV DNA, which may indicate possible infection.
What Is The Treatment For HPV?
If diagnostic tests indicate you could be infected with HPV, your doctor may recommend one of the following procedures:
A colposcopy is a simple procedure that allows your doctor to examine your cervix more closely. It is performed in our office and takes 10 to 15 minutes. During a colposcopy, acetic acid (vinegar) is applied to your cervix and a doctor examines your cervix with a large microscope called a colposcope. The acetic acid causes any abnormal areas to turn white. Your doctor may choose to biopsy these areas, or take a small sample of cells for further testing. Some women may experience pain or discomfort as a result of a cervical biopsy.
LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure) involves the use of an electrically energized wire loop to remove the abnormal tissue. The LEEP recovery time depends upon how much tissue was removed. After a LEEP procedure, most women are able to return to their regular activities within 1 to 3 days. Some women may experience mild cramping.
Laser surgery uses a microscope to deliver a tiny beam of laser energy to destroy abnormal tissue. It may be performed in our office or in a hospital setting.
Cyrosurgery involves freezing off the diseased tissue and warts.
Prescription creams such as Efudex or Aldara can sometimes be used on the cervix or on individual warts on the perineum.
Effective Diagnosis And Treatment Of HPV
The Center for Women’s Health is known in the Kansas City metro area for innovative treatment methods. Because of clinical research affiliations with major pharmaceutical companies, Dr. Hodes and Dr. Nauser have access to new developments that are not yet widely available. They have been involved in the study of human papillomavirus and are dedicated to alerting women to its danger.
The office is equipped with the latest colposcopy equipment, as well as in-office laser and LEEP surgery. The staff is especially sensitive to the needs of women with HPV and provides the compassionate care our patients need to fully recover..
For more information or to schedule an appointment, please contact the Center for Women’s Health at 913-491-6878.