No one wants to think about sexually transmitted diseases, but without proper education regarding human papillomavirus (HPV), you may find yourself confronted with even worse topics like genital warts and even cancer. Fortunately, there are things you can do to protect yourself.
Dr. Daniel Kushner provides treatment for a wide variety of gynecological and obstetrical needs. He and his team offer comprehensive physical exams, take thorough medical histories, and conduct diagnostic tests and treatment all in a warm, supportive environment.
The most common sexually transmitted infection, HPV includes more than 150 different viruses and affects almost 80 million Americans. While it is most often spread through vaginal or anal sex, it can also be acquired through oral sex. When you know the facts, it is easy to see why it is so commonly spread: HPV is contagious even when the infected individual has no signs or symptoms, and infection can take years to show up after exposure.
In most cases, people never realize they are infected with HPV and it doesn't cause any symptoms or health problems. Some, however, develop genital warts, which typically appear as a bump or bumps in the genital area that may be big or small, flat or raised, or cauliflower-shaped.
HPV can also lead to a number of different kinds of cancer — often years or decades after exposure. Types include cancer of the:
HPV can also result in oropharyngeal cancer, which appears at the back of the throat or at the base of the tongue and tonsils.
Testing for HPV
HPV will infect most people at some point in their lives. It also usually goes away on its own. There is no HPV test approved for men. There is an HPV test for screening women, but it’s typically only recommended in those age 30 and older. Women should maintain regular screenings and annual Pap smears to check for abnormal cell growth, which could lead to cervical cancer.
If the Pap smear shows abnormal cell growth, Dr. Kushner may recommend a colposcopy or other testing to determine if the particular HPV strain is associated with a greater risk of developing into cervical cancer.
Like with a Pap smear, he uses a speculum to open the vagina and then puts a small bit of painless vinegar solution on the cervix to see the abnormal cells. Next, Dr. Kushner uses the colposcope, a specialized microscope with a concentrated light, to access the area and take a biopsy. The specimen is sent to the lab for testing, and you get the results within two weeks.
Other possible treatments for strains that lead to warts or abnormal cells could include:
- Electrocautery or laser removal
- Loop electrosurgical excision
There are steps you can take to prevent getting an HPV infection. The most effective method of prevention — next to abstinence — is vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend all boys and girls get two HPV vaccine doses at age 11-12 to help protect against HPV-related cancers.
If you weren't vaccinated as a child, you can receive a catch-up vaccination up to age 21 for boys and men and up to age 26 for girls and women. Certain other situations may affect whether men older than 21 should be vaccinated, so check with Dr. Kushner.
You can lessen the risk of infection with HPV by using a latex condom every time during sex, though it cannot fully protect against HPV because some areas are not covered by the condom. Being in a mutually monogamous relationship can also reduce — but not eliminate — the risk of infection.
If you're worried about HPV, genital warts, or HPV-related cancer, call or click to book an appointment with Dr. Kushner today.