Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that infects the skin and mucous membranes. It is spread through sexual contact and can lead to various health problems, including genital warts and certain types of cancer. It is estimated that nearly 80% of people will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives.
There are over 100 types of human papillomavirus, and they can be divided into low-risk and high-risk. Low-risk HPV types can cause skin warts, such as common and plantar warts. These types of HPV do not typically cause cancer. High-risk HPV types, on the other hand, can lead to cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, and oropharynx (the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils).
A genital HPV infection is most commonly transmitted through sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. It can also be transmitted through skin-to-skin communication during sexual activity. In rare cases, it can be transmitted from mother to child during childbirth.
Symptoms of HPV infections can vary depending on the type of HPV and the location of the infection. Some people with HPV may not experience any symptoms at all. In other cases, HPV may cause genital warts, which are small, fleshy growths that can appear on the vulva, cervix, anus, or throat. Genital warts can be treated with topical creams, cryotherapy (freezing warts), or surgical removal.
In some cases, human papillomavirus can lead to precancerous changes in the cells of the cervix, vulva, anus, or oropharynx. These changes can eventually progress to cancer if not treated. It is essential to have regular Pap tests and HPV tests to detect any abnormal cell changes early on. Treatment for precancerous cell changes may include cryotherapy, laser therapy, or loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP), which removes the abnormal cells using a thin wire loop.
HPV can also cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, and oropharynx. Cervical cancer is the most common type of HPV-related cancer, and it is caused by high-risk HPV types 16 and 18. Other high-risk HPV types, such as 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58, can also cause cervical cancer. Symptoms of cervical cancer may include abnormal bleeding, pain during sex, and discharge from the vagina.
Vulvar cancer is rare cancer affecting the outer female genitalia, including the labia and clitoris. It is usually caused by high-risk HPV types 16, 18, and 31. Symptoms of vulvar cancer may include itching, burning, and a lump or sore on the vulva.
Vaginal cancer is rare cancer that affects the walls of the vagina. It is usually caused by high-risk HPV types 16 and 18. Symptoms of vaginal cancer may include abnormal bleeding, discharge, and pain during sex.
Anal cancer is cancer that affects the anus and rectum. It is usually caused by high-risk HPV types 16 and 18. Symptoms of anal cancer may include pain or pressure in the anus, bleeding from the anus, and a change in bowel habits.
Oropharyngeal cancer affects the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils. It is usually caused by high-risk HPV types 16 and 18. Symptoms of oropharyngeal cancer may include a sore throat, difficulty swallowing, and a lump in the neck.
You can take several steps to reduce your risk of human papillomavirus infection. One of the most effective ways to prevent HPV is by getting the HPV vaccine. HPV vaccination is recommended for both males and females and is most effective when given at a young age, typically around ages 11 or 12. The vaccine is also recommended for adults up to age 45 who have yet to receive it.
Another way to reduce your risk of HPV infection is by practicing safe sex. Using condoms during sexual activity can help reduce the risk of transmission. It is also essential to limit the number of sexual partners you have, as having multiple sexual partners increases the risk of HPV infection.
Practicing good hygiene, such as washing your hands and avoiding personal sharing items like towels and razors, is also essential. This can help reduce the risk of transmission through skin-to-skin contact.
If you have been diagnosed with HPV, following your healthcare provider’s treatment and follow-up care recommendations is essential. This may include regular Pap tests, HPV tests, and other procedures to monitor for any abnormal cell changes.
Human papillomavirus is commonly transmitted through sexual contact. It can cause various health problems, including genital warts and certain types of cancer. The best way to prevent HPV infection is by getting the HPV vaccine and practicing safe sex.
The information in this article was obtained from the following sources:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/index.html
- World Health Organization. (2021). HPV and HPV Vaccines. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/teams/health-product-policy-and-standards/standards-and-specifications/vaccine-standardization/human-papillomavirus
- American Cancer Society. (2021). HPV and Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/risk-prevention/hpv.html