HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a group of over 100 infections that frequently are symptom free. Approximately 30% of this group are sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that result in contact from an infected partner. One cannot prevent HPV by using condoms, since the virus may be present on skin surrounding the genitals.
HPV has recently received a great deal of attention because it is now known that some forms of HPV cause all forms of cervical cancer. HPV is often not noted by those infected. In some instances forms of HPV will result in genital warts that may be present on the genitals or around the anus, but frequently HPV presents no symptoms, or such insignificant symptoms that they are ignored by those infected.
HPV has no current cure. Oral medications may temporarily cause the warts to resolve. Yet like Herpes, the warts may also recur and need to be retreated at a later date. The real goal in treatment is to make the patient aware of the potential risks associated with HPV, since most diagnoses occur in the presence of an abnormal PAP smear test.
The PAP is part of what should be a yearly gynecological exam for women. It takes a tiny amount of tissue from the cervix, which is then examined by a lab to determine if any abnormal cells exist. Sometimes abnormal cells occur once only and never recur. In other cases, future pap smears will show continuing spread of abnormal cells indicating cervical cancer.
When genital warts are not present, the PAP is the only way to test for HPV. No test exists for men, which is unfortunate, since HPV may also cause penile cancer. In the absence of available testing, caution with sexual partners is urged by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) of the US. They suggest that if one chooses to be sexually active, they should do so with a long-term monogamous partner.
If one has multiple partners, one increases risk of contracting HPV. If a partner is aware that in the past, he or she has had genital warts, or an abnormal pap smear, it is only fair to communicate this to any potential partners to reduce risk to them. Unfortunately, one cannot be assured that a potential partner does not have HPV since testing methods are limited.
The risk of sexually transmitted HPV is further spread by ignorance. Sexually active teens tend not to realize that any type of contact with another person’s genitals can transmit HPV, and that most STDs can be spread without sexual intercourse. Lack of access to appropriate care and counseling should a teen become sexually active usually leads to teens being misinformed about the risk of sexual contact of any kind.
Since HPV is now indicated in a serious type of cancer, scientists are actively working to better methods for HPV diagnosis. There is also research into a possible vaccine at a future date. For now, the medical community is exerting its efforts toward education of the public about HPV, so that women will be certain not to skip their recommended yearly gynecological exams. The CDC also recommends that all who have genital warts or who have had contact with someone with HPV should discuss this with their physicians.