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What is HPV?

The Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment of the Human Papillomavirus

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Updated July 01, 2014

What is HPV?
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The human papillomavirus, more commonly known as HPV, is a viral infection spread through skin to skin sexual contact. HPV is a group of over 100 different viruses, with at least 30 strains known to cause different types of cancer. There is currently no cure for the virus.

How Can You Get HPV

HPV is transmitted by skin to skin contact through vaginal, anal and oral sex with a partner who already has the virus. If infected, signs and symptoms may take weeks, months and even years to appear. Symptoms may never appear.

Symptoms of HPV

Symptoms of HPV normally appear in the form a cauliflower like growths called genital warts. These warts may also be flat. They can be found on the inside and the outside of the vagina. These growths may take weeks or even years to show after having sex with an infected partner. Again, they may appear show at all.

How Do I Know If I Have HPV?

An HPV test can be done to determine if a person has HPV. Testing samples of cervical cells is an effective way to identify high-risk types of HPVs that may be present. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a test that can identify 13 of the high-risk types of HPVs associated with the development of cervical cancer. There is currently no test available for men.

Preventing HPV

Abstaining from any type of sexual activity is ideal for preventing HPV, but not very realistic for adults. Wearing a condom provides limited protection. Keep in mind that since HPV may not show any visible symptoms, your partner may still be infected.

HPV and Cervical Cancer

HPV is a Risk Factor For Cervical Cancer

Having many sexual partners is a risk factor for HPV infection. Although most HPV infections go away on their own without causing any type of abnormality, infection with high-risk HPV types increases the chance that mild abnormalities will progress to more severe abnormalities to cervical cancer.

Still, of the women who do develop abnormal cell changes with high-risk types of HPV, only a small percentage would develop cervical cancer if the abnormal cells were not removed. Studies suggest that whether a woman develops cervical cancer depends on a variety of factors acting together with high-risk HPV. The factors that may increase the risk of cervical cancer in women with HPV infection include smoking and having many children.

What are the high risk strains of HPV?Many of the strains that are dangerous to cervical health can be identified with a test. The strains most associated with cervical cancer are 16, 18, 31, 33, 35, 39, 45, 51, 52, 56, 58, 59, 68, 69, and possibly a few others. Keep in mind that the risk is still relatively low that cancer will develop.

To learn more about cervical cancer, please see:

Source: National Cancer Institute

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