Human papillomavirus is a sexually transmitted virus that infects approximately 75% of the sexually active women in the United States. HPV comes in over 85 strains. Some strains are the types that cause genital warts. This group is called “low risk” HPV. This is NOT the type of HPV that we detect on pap smears. This is NOT the type that plays a role in cervix disease.
Exposure to “high risk” types of HPV is a risk factor for cervix dysplasia. The only other known risk factor is smoking. There are no symptoms of “high risk” HPV. Diagnosis is only made by further testing of an abnormal pap smear.
A diagnosis of “high risk” HPV cannot reveal when a person has been exposed to HPV. Exposure could have been years ago or during the last sexual encounter. There is no way to know.
Men do not have symptoms of “high risk” HPV. Men have no way of being tested for “high risk” HPV. If a person tests negative for sexually transmitted diseases, this does not exclude “high risk” HPV. A carrier for “high risk” HPV may unknowingly pass it to a sexual partner.
Like any virus, doctors have no way of making the human body get rid of HPV. Much like the common cold or herpes virus, medicines can only treat the symptoms. We do not treat “high risk” HPV, we treat cervical dysplasia.
Most women with “high risk” HPV do not develop cervix cancer. More than 50 million women are carriers for “high risk” HPV in the United States. Less then 4,500 die of cervix cancer each year. Clearly, there are many other factors involved in developing cervix cancer.
We encourage women with “high risk” HPV to get regular pap smears as directed by your doctor, stop smoking, take a multivitamin daily and use condoms if not in a lifelong monogamous relationship (to avoid exposure to other “high risk” types of HPV). These actions can help a womanâ€™s immune system keep HPV suppressed. It is common for a woman who tests positive for “high risk” HPV to never have problems with her cervix again.
A patient may tend to focus on the social implications of exposure to HPV rather than the medical issues. HPV is an incredibly common infection. By receiving routine health care, being compliant with medical recommendations and knowing the facts, you are optimizing your health. We do not want women to feel stigmatized and helpless.
We are here to answer your questions. For more information on HPV management, click here (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists)