Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
Introduction to Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
HPV is the human papilloma virus, which are a group of virus’ that can affect your cervix, anus, mouth and throat.
What is Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)?
HPV is the human papilloma virus, which are a group of virus’ that can affect your cervix, anus, mouth and throat. There are over 100 types of HPV virus and over 30 affect the genitalia. Some HPV infections cause genital warts, and some can cause cervical cancer. HPV is highly contagious and is mostly spread through unprotected sex and skin-to-skin contact of the genital area.
Genital warts are the second most common sexually transmitted infection in the UK and cervical cancer is almost entirely attributed to the HPV virus.
What causes HPV?
Out of the 100 different types of HPV, 70% of all cervical cancer cases are caused by 2 strains of the virus (HPV 16 and HPV 18). Genital warts are also caused by 2 different strains (HPV 6 and HPV 11). Exactly how the virus causes these infections and cancer is not fully understood.
What are the symptoms of HPV?
The two most common conditions that HPV causes are genital warts and cervical cancer. The main symptoms of genital warts are fleshy growths that can look like singular bumps of skin or appear in a cluster, warts are usually painless. The most common sites for warts are around the vulva, cervix, vagina, anus or thigh for women and on the penis, scrotum, urethra and anus for men.
The other condition HPV causes is cervical cancer. Symptoms of cervical cancer tend to be abnormal vaginal bleeding, typically after sex. You may also experience pain during sex and an unpleasant smelling discharge from the vagina.
How is HPV treated?
For genital warts there are two main types of treatment. One is a topical cream applied to the warts the other is to destroy the wart by freezing, heating or removing it.
The treatment for cervical cancer depends on where the cancer is and if it has spread. If your cancer is in the early stages it may be able to be removed by surgery and often the cervix and the womb may have to be removed. You may also need additional treatment in the form of radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
There is a vaccine for 4 different strains of HPV that have been linked to causing cervical cancer. The vaccine is given to all girls when they are 12-13 years old; the vaccine provides 75-99% protection against HPV. Women aged 25-49 are also offered cervical cancer screening in the form of a smear test, which checks that there are no cancerous cells in the cervix.
Using a condom can further decrease your risk of contracting HPV. However the virus can also be spread by skin-to-skin contact, so you may not be completely protected even if you are using a condom. The more sexual partners you have increase your risk of contracting HPV. A specialist sexual health doctor will be able to further advise you on the HPV virus and what treatments are available.