Commonly Asked HPV Questions

Your HPV Questions Answered

You probably have a lot of  HPV questions. By answering some of the most common ones below, we want to help you understand what is going on. If you don’t see your question answered, you can always contact us, as we would be happy to provide you with additional information. ASK YOUR UNANSWERED HPV QUESTIONS HERE.

WHAT IS HPV?

HPV stands for human papillomavirus and is the name of a common virus that includes over 100 different types of strains that infect the skin and mucous membranes. This group of sexually transmitted viruses includes genital warts, vulvar dysplasia (VIN) and cervical dysplasia (CIN) some of which can lead to pre-cancerous cell changes in the cervix.

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF HPV?

There are over 100 different types of HPV and approximately 30 of these are spread through genital contact.  Around 12 “Low-risk” strains of HPV that cause genitals, hand and feet warts. In addition there are 15 “high-risk” strains are responsible for various types of cancer, such as, cervical cancer.

HOW COMMON IS HPV?

It is estimated that 80 percent of all women – and 50 percent of men and women combined – will get one or more types of “genital” HPV at some point in their lives.

HOW WOULD I KNOW IF I HAD HPV?

Often, there aren’t any symptoms at all and you might have HPV without even knowing it. Low-risk strains affect the skin and mucous membranes of the body, leading to warts on the feet, hands or genitals. Other types of HPV cause changes in the cells of the cervix, leading to abnormal cells and cervical cancer.

Genital warts are flesh-coloured bumps that can be flat or raised, and can appear like small, cauliflower-type growths on the skin. Although genital warts may not cause symptoms, some women do feel itching or have vaginal discharge or bleeding after having sex.

Abnormal cells on the cervix don’t usually cause symptoms and the best way to know if you have them is to get regular Pap tests. Pap tests are the most effective way to catch abnormal cervical cells and cervical cancer early, so that they can be treated more easily. Speak to your doctor about when you should have a Pap test.

CAN I GET HPV EVEN IF I DON’T HAVE SEXUAL INTERCOURSE?

Yes, you can catch HPV simply through skin-to-skin contact with the genital area of an infected person during an intimate encounter. Skin-to-skin contact can be as simple as rubbing the penis against the opening of the vagina or anus, or kissing the genitals. You do not need to have sex, whether it’s oral, vaginal, or anal, to spread the infection

IS THERE A CURE FOR HPV?

There is no HPV cure but HPV symptoms can be treated. Additionally, a strong immune system can successfully suppress HPV from showing any symptoms for a lifetime.

WHAT ARE CURRENT TREATMENTS FOR HPV?

Conventional HPV treatment includes the following surgical procedures: Conization: This procedure, also known as a cone biopsy, removes the abnormal areas, LEEP or Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure: The abnormal cells are removed with an electrical current, and Cryotherapy: this involves freezing the abnormal cells with liquid nitrogen.

CAN HPV BE TREATED NATURALLY?

Naturopathic doctors have been successful in treating patients with HPV, genital warts, and cervical dysplasia through screening, diet and lifestyle changes, nutrient supplementation and herbal cancer formulas for decades.

CAN HPV CAUSE ANY OTHER KINDS OF CANCER BESIDES CERVICAL CANCER?

Cervical cancer (which the American Cancer Society expects 12,820 new cases will be diagnosed in 2017) is by far the most significant concern. However, high-risk types of HPV also have been linked to less-common cancers of the vulva (3,490 women), vagina (2,140 women), anus (2,750 women and 1,900 men) and penis (1,280 men).

Some research also has suggested a link between high-risk types of HPV and other cancers, such as oral (mouth and throat) cancer. However, these other HPV-related cancers are still being investigated and are thought to be relatively rare.

HOW CAN I PROTECT MYSELF FROM HPV?

There are 3 main ways to help reduce your risk of HPV infection:

  • Have regular checkups and Pap tests. These will help catch problems early while they are still easy to treat
  • Practice safe sex
  • Talk to your doctor to find out if HPV vaccination, which helps protect against certain types of HPV, might be right for you

DO MEN GET HPV TOO?

Men get HPV just like women do. As with women, men usually have no symptoms, unless the HPV virus begins to cause abnormal changes in skin cells.

However, although HPV infection has been linked to cancer of the penis and anus, these cancers are very rare in men. For this reason, as well as because a good, reliable way to collect a sample of male genital skin cells that would allow detection of HPV has yet to be discovered, there is currently no FDA-approved HPV test for men.

IF I HAVE HPV, WHAT ARE THE CHANCES THAT I WILL GET CERVICAL CANCER?

In most cases, the body’s immune system fights off or suppresses the virus before abnormal cells develop. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 70 percent of new HPV infections (including those that are “high risk”) go away within one year, and 91 percent are gone within two years.

It’s only when high-risk types of HPV stay “active” for a long period of time that the risk of developing abnormal cells that can turn into cervical cancer increases significantly.

In one study conducted by the National Cancer Institute, 4% of women who were found through testing to have high-risk HPV developed pre-cancerous cervical disease (CIN 3) in the following three years. When watched for 10 years, about 7% of the women developed advanced cervical disease.

Overall, it’s estimated that women who have a long-lasting infection with high-risk HPV are 200-plus times more likely to develop pre-cancerous cervical disease than those without it.

OTHER THAN HPV, WHAT ARE OTHER RISK FACTORS FOR CERVICAL CANCER IN WOMEN?

Although risk factors like smoking, diet, lifestyle and the use of oral contraceptives can contribute to your chance of developing cervical disease, HPV must first be present.

IS THERE A TEST TO DETECT HPV?

There is a test to detect HPV, but screening for HPV is not included in the regular sexually transmitted infection testing. The HPV test detects the high-risk (the ones most likely to cause cancer) and much like a pap test, an HPV test is done on a sample of cells collected from the cervix.

HOW CAN I PREVENT HPV?

The only sure way of preventing an HPV infection is to abstain from any sexual activity of any kind. Although, if you do plan to have sex or have already started sexual activity, practicing safer sex will help lower your risk of getting HPV but will not protect you completely.

You can also consider getting vaccinated against HPV. There are 2 vaccines available that help to protect against certain types of HPV. The HPV vaccines provide protection against 2 types of HPV that cause 70% of all cases of cervical cancer.

It is important to get pap tests done regularly, even if you have been vaccinated against HPV. Talk to your doctor to find out more about your options for protecting yourself against HPV.

IF I GOT THE HPV VACCINE, CAN I STILL GET GENITAL WARTS OR CERVICAL CANCER?

An HPV vaccine exists to respond to the most common strains of “genital” HPV. However, the vaccination is only fully effective if it is given before a girl or young woman has been exposed to those types of HPV through sexual contact. In addition, the vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer.

It is important to get a regular Pap and – if you’re over 30 – an HPV test, even if you’ve been vaccinated. A Pap can identify abnormal cells and help make sure abnormal cells are diagnosed and treated early.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN IF I HAVE AN ABNORMAL PAP TEST?

An abnormal Pap result does not mean you have cervical cancer. About 4 to 5 million Pap tests are done every year in Canada and only about 350,000 get an abnormal result, and only a fraction of those (1,400) are cancer.

Abnormal Pap results means there is a change in the cells of the cervix. Changes in the cells could be a result of a vaginal infection, a sexually transmitted infection (STI), HPV (which is a specific type of STI), or hormone level changes, among other causes.

Discuss your results with your doctor, who will let you know if further tests, such as an HPV or STI test, are needed.

WHAT IS CERVICAL DYSPLASIA AND WHAT IS THE CONNECTION TO HPV?

Cervical dysplasia is the abnormal growth of cells on the surface of the cervix. Although this is not cancer, this is considered a precancerous condition. Cervical dysplasia is grouped into three categories:

  1. CIN I — mild dysplasia (a few cells are abnormal)
  2. CIN II — moderate to marked dysplasia and
  3. CIN III — severe dysplasia to carcinoma-in-situ (precancerous cells only in the top layer of the cervix).

Eighty to ninety percent of women with cervical dysplasia have an HPV infection.