The Low Down on HPV
The number of people with HPV are rising every year. Wondering if you could be at risk? Read below to learn about the climbing risks of HPV.
What is HPV?
Human Papilloma Virus is one of the most common viruses that affects humans, being the most sexually transmitted infection in the United States. It affects millions of men and women every year. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that almost every sexually active adult will get HPV at some point in their lifetime. It can be spread by skin to skin contact, most commonly through sexual activity.
How do I get it?
Most people know that HPV is spread through skin to skin contact during sexual activity involving the genital area. Did you also know that it can also be spread through anal and oral sex too? Though, it is most commonly transmitted through vaginal and anal sex. Even being sexually active with only one person can bring on an HPV infection. Having more sexual partners will put you at higher risk for contracting an HPV infection.
I won’t be at risk because my partner didn’t have any symptoms…right?
The short answer is: you could still be at risk. Unfortunately HPV can be passed on even when someone with an HPV infection does not have any symptoms. With a healthy immune system, someone may suppress symptoms of the HPV infection, but the virus can still hop over to another host. With an equally healthy immune system, chances are it won’t cause any serious complications.
We use physical protection (i.e. condoms) every time so I’m safe.
While condoms provide excellent protection against sexually transmitted infections, they only provide some protection against HPV. Condoms do not cover the entire genital area, so you can still get the HPV virus though skin to skin contact in the genital area even if you’re wearing a condom. It can also be spread through contact with other areas that aren’t covered. In other words, you can get HPV through oral-genital or hand-genital contact – not just sexual intercourse!
The Number of HPV Infections Matters
If I got it once, I’m safe now…right?
You can be infected with HPV more than once, even if you’ve already been exposed to HPV before. Your body may not have developed long-term protection against the virus, or you may come into contact with a completely different strain of the virus, remembering that there are over 100 different types of HPV.
Should you be worried?
There are low risk and high risk types of HPV. Most HPV infections are self-limiting and usually resolve within a period of 1-2 years. Like any other virus, your immune system will be able to clear HPV pretty easily without even realizing you had it. There are, however, a few high risk strains that can be responsible for some health concerns in women, such as:
- Genital warts
- Cervical dysplasia
- Precancerous lesions
- Cervical cancer
HPV can affect both men and women alike. The rising rates of HPV have been more of a concern for the anatomically female population due to the severe consequence of cervical cancer, 80% of which have been attributed to an HPV infection. Severe cancer-linked complications in men are rarer than that of women, which is why prevention and treatment has been heavily focused on women in the past. Most men have no symptoms, so diagnosis of HPV is quite difficult. It can only be made when external genital warts are seen. Grade school boys are now being included in a school-based mandate to vaccinate against HPV to decrease transmission.
HPV causes a number of lower risk and higher risk complications to the body. These include:
- Common warts
- Genital warts
- Plantar warts
- Facial warts
- Pre-cancerous lesions of cervix, anus, penis, vulva, or uterus
- Cervical cancer
- Penile carcinoma
The diseases caused by HPV may lead to certain secondary conditions or disorders. These are termed HPV complications.
Most HPV viruses do not cause any serious complications, as the infections are self-limiting and regress spontaneously within a period of 1 to 2 years in about 90 percent of patients. Only a small number of people suffer from persistent HPV infections and have increased risk of developing cancer.
HPV complications include:
- Cancer: Persistent HPV
infections caused by high-risk types, mainly type 16 and 18, may progress into
- Cervical Carcinoma (the most common complication associated with malignancies)
- Genital Carcinoma
- Vulvar Carcinoma
- Anal Carcinoma
- Penile Carcinoma (rare cancer associated with HPV)
- In pregnancy, warts on the vaginal wall may lead to obstruction in during vaginal delivery.
- Genital warts appear as papules near vagina, cervix, vulva, or anus. These warts are visible to the naked eye and can be easily detected by a visual examination. They are itchy, painless, pink papules and may appear as cauliflower-like growths.
- Genital warts may appear in the urinary tract that may become enlarged, leading to difficulties in urination.
- Genital warts may become
ulcers, or open sores.
- Ulcers can lead to infections of the rectum, anus, urethra and even mouth or throat.
- Warts in the throat, or laryngeal papillomatosis can occur in newborns, from delivery when born to through vaginal delivery to women with warts – This rare condition requires urgent attention.
- Cervical dysplasia is an abnormal cell growth that is commonly precancerous, on the surface lining of the cervix or the opening between the uterus and the vagina. You may see this in your pap smear results as Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia (CIN).
- Cervical cancer is the most common cancer due to HPV. It is caused by 2 high risk types of HPV, HPV 16 and 18 that cause 70% of cervical cancers and precancerous lesions. Not to worry, by following your doctor’s medical advice, attending regular checkups, and keeping your immune system strong, the chance of your HPV leading to cancer is unlikely.
Time to Infection
HPV has an estimated incubation period from HPV infection to genital wart development anywhere from 2 weeks to 8 months. The majority of genital warts appear 2 to 3 months after an infection.
Most people clear an HPV infection naturally with a good immune system in 1 to 2 years. Some people may stay infected for years. It will take about 10 to 30 years from the time of infection to see a cancerous tumour form.
It is important to get routine checkups and pap tests to stop the cervical cell changes in their path before they progress further into cancer.
Location of Complications
Complications most likely arise in the genital, anal, and oral areas of both men and women. It mostly affects a woman’s cervix, causing cervical dysplasia and abnormal cell changes that may lead to cancer if untreated.
HPV Strains causing Complications
There are over 150 different known strains of HPV. Some of these are high risk and some are low risk. About 14 of these strains are specifically linked to higher rates of cancer and are termed “high risk”.
HPV 6 and 11 cause 90% of genital warts linked to HPV, but are considered “low risk” strains because they rarely develop into cancer.
HPV 16 and 18 cause an estimated 70% of all cervical cancers. These two strains are widely known as the highest risk strains of HPV.
HPV Detection and Prevention
HPV detection is key to preventing further high risk complications of HPV in women. One way, is to attend routine women’s health screening exams with your medical doctor. The Pap smear detects even the earliest cellular changes of cancer, and this timely detection has led to reduction in the progression to cancers. The HPV test detects HPV in your cells, finding the HPV before symptoms occur.
There is are multiple HPV vaccinations available that are FDA approved to prevent diseases caused by HPV. It is recommended to get before the age of 25. It is also most optimal to implement vaccines prior to the onset of sexual activity, being more effective with a young teen immune system.
Treatment for HPV Complications
There are many treatment therapies available for symptoms of genital warts and cervical dysplasia, such as cryotherapy, LEEP, surgical removal, laser surgery, or photodynamic therapy. There are many clinical trials outlining the success of each therapy.
What can I do naturally?
Although there is no cure, most HPV infections are easily cleared by a strong, healthy immune system. Your immune system can be supported in a number of natural ways:
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
- Quit smoking
- Reduce alcohol consumption
- Drink green tea
- Exercise to sweat
Papillex, is a compound that contains high quality, natural sources of nutrients that have been shown to support beneficial results with respect to HPV. It contains ingredients that nutritionally support the immune system which will help the body to better respond to genital warts, cervical dysplasia, and other HPV-related disorders naturally.