What is HPV?

HPV stands for human papillomavirus. HPV isn’t just 1 virus. There are over 100 strains of HPV, some of which can lead to cervical cancer or cancer of the anus or penis.

Types of HPV

HPV lives in thin, flat cells called epithelial cells. These are found on the skin’s surface. They’re also found on the surface of the vagina, anus, vulva, cervix, the head of the penis and inside the mouth and throat. 60 out of 100 HPV strains results in warts on hands or feet. The other 40 are spread through sex. Not all of these 40 types cause serious health issues.

70% cases of cervical cancers are caused by high-risk HPV strains.  Those include HPV 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, 58, etc. Low-risk HPV strains, such as HPV 6 and 11, account for about 90% of genital warts.

Symptoms of an HPV infection

Many people don’t know they’re infected with HPV because, most of the time, there’s no symptom. The infection clears up by itself within several years. However, infection caused by high-risk HPV strains may be more persistent and may develop into cancer.

Genital warts are a warning sign. Genital warts may be raised, flat, pink, or flesh-colored. Some look like cauliflower. They may develop on the anus, cervix, scrotum, groin, thigh, or penis. Genital warts may take weeks, months, or even years after your sexual encounter with the infected person. HPV strains that are linked to cancers may not show any symptom.

Tests for HPV

HPV isn’t included in the routine health checkups. Unless your Pap test shows abnormal changes in the cervical cells, your doctor will not order further lab test. But if you’re over 30, your doctor may still check for HPV even if your Pap test is normal. If you are HPV positive and you have an abnormal Pap test, more tests are required. If you are HPV positive but your Pap results are normal, you will be checked again next year.

Treatment for HPV infection

Most of the time, HPV infection clears up on its own, so medical treatment is not necessary. But you may need to be tested again after 6 months or a year to see if there’s any concern. Warts or cancers need specific targeted treatment. Keep in mind that if you just treat the warts without getting rid of the virus, the warts are likely to recur.

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