Did you know HPV, the human papillomavirus, is the most common sexually transmitted infection in America? There are more than 200 different strains of this virus, and over 42 million Americans have the infection — with about 13 million new cases occurring each year.
Some HPV strains aren’t sexually transmitted and cause common warts like those you get on your hands and feet. But many strains of HPV spread through sexual contact and are linked to genital warts and even cancer.
As a board-certified OB/GYN, Daniel S. Kushner, MD, diagnoses and treats different types of HPV infections. Many of his patients in White Plains and Queens, New York, wonder if they need treatment for HPV or if this common virus resolves on its own.
The answer: it depends, both on the strain of HPV and your overall health. In this blog, you can learn more about HPV and how to stay healthy and safe.
Why do people get HPV?
HPV is incredibly common, and researchers believe almost all people get HPV at some point during their lifetime. The virus spreads during close contact, and many strains are sexually transmitted.
Most HPV strains don’t cause any signs or symptoms, which makes it easy for people to spread the infection without knowing it. Most HPV strains are low-risk viruses that don’t cause any problems.
However, some HPV strains do trigger health issues. Two strains of HPV cause almost all cases of genital warts. This sexually transmitted disease (STD) can be annoying, but the warts aren’t harmful to your health.
About a dozen or so high-risk strains of HPV can lead to cancer, with two strains in particular linked to the development of the majority of HPV-related cancer cases. Fortunately, there are vaccines to help protect you from getting HPV.
How do I get tested for HPV?
Because even high-risk strains don’t cause symptoms right away, getting routine screenings is essential for your health. Dr. Kushner includes a screening for HPV when you get your regular Pap smear.
The Pap test helps detect precancerous and abnormal cells before they develop into cancer. Cervical cancer, the most common type of cancer caused by HPV, takes years to develop, and it can be treated with a high degree of success when caught early.
If you get an abnormal test result, Dr. Kushner may recommend additional testing with a colposcopy. This test is like a Pap smear but uses concentrated light to make it easier to access and biopsy abnormal cells.
Does HPV go away without treatment?
The good news is that, in most cases, HPV goes away on its own within two years. But there are many strains of HPV, and not all HPV infections are the same. HPV may not clear up without medical intervention if:
- You’re immunosuppressed and get HPV
- You get a strain of HPV that causes genital warts (these strains tend to return)
- You get a strain of high-risk HPV that causes cellular changes to your body
About 10% of people with HPV fall into the last category, getting a type of HPV linked to cancer. Because these strains don’t usually cause symptoms or create health problems until they trigger cellular changes, it’s important to get regular screenings with Dr. Kushner.
If you test positive for a strain of HPV linked to genital warts or the development of abnormal cells, Dr. Kushner may recommend treating the infection with medication, laser removal, electrocauterization, or surgical excision.
Learn more about HPV or get tested for this common virus by scheduling an appointment online or over the phone with Dr. Kushner at the New York location nearest you.