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HPV Treatment

Treatment Options for HPV

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Updated August 07, 2011

When a person is diagnosed with HPV, one of the first questions asked is how the virus can be treated. Unfortunately, there is no universal HPV treatment. The virus affects people in different ways, based on which strain they are infected with. Some women and men may find themselves with genital warts, but some women may undergo abnormal cervical changes, called cervical dysplasia, because of HPV. While genital warts pose no immediate health risk, women who suffer from cervical dysplasia are at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer, especially when left untreated or unmonitored.

For most cases of HPV, there is no recommended treatment unless genital warts are present or abnormal cervical changes have been detected by a Pap smear. Genital warts and abnormal cervical changes are symptoms of HPV, but it is important to know that HPV can be asymptomatic (no symptoms). Just because someone doesn't have symptoms, doesn't mean they aren't infected.

Treatment for Genital Warts

Though unsightly, genital warts do not cause any major health problems and are not related to HPV strains associated with cancer. You are not at risk of developing cervical cancer or any other HPV-related cancer if you have genital warts. However, you can be infected with more than one strain of HPV at a time, hence the importance of regular Pap smears for women.

Today, most people with genital warts can be treated with at-home topical creams that are prescribed by a doctor. There are other creams that can be purchased over the Internet that claim to cure HPV, but be cautious about medications that guarantee cures. If it's too good to be true, then it probably is. These medications are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and usually do not work. Plus, there is no known cure for HPV.

Other methods of removing genital warts include cryotherapy (freezing the warts), applying trichloracetic acid, laser therapy and by using a surgical scalpel, although uncommon.

Regardless of what type of treatment is used to remove genital warts, it is not curative. After removal, genital warts can return after treatment. Removal simply treats the symptoms, not the virus.

Treatment for Cervical Changes Caused By HPV

Certain strains of HPV can cause abnormal cervical changes that could lead to cancer if left unmonitored or untreated. Cervical dysplasia, as these changes are called, can be classified as mild (low grade) to severe (high grade), based on findings from cervical exams, such as Pap smears and colposcopy exams.

For women who have low-grade cervical dysplasia, the treatment is often no treatment at all. The "watch and wait" approach alleviates unnecessary medical treatments. Research shows that in cases of low-grade dysplasia, the condition resolves on its own without medical intervention. Women are advised to undergo regular screenings to ensure the dysplasia has not worsened, which would require treatment. These follow-ups are vital for cervical health.

High-grade cervical dysplasia requires treatment to prevent it from progressing into cervical cancer. Removing the affected tissue can be accomplished by LEEP, laser therapy, cryotherapy and other surgical methods, if necessary.

Like genital warts, treatment for cervical dysplasia is not curative. Since the virus is not being treated, it can cause abnormal cervical changes, requiring additional treatment. Women who undergo treatment for cervical dysplasia must follow-up with their doctor for cervical exams at the recommended intervals, which is normally every six to 12 months.

Sources: American Cancer Society. What Women Should Know About Cervix Cancer and the Human Papillomavirus. December 2009. Accessed July 2011. http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/CancerCauses/OtherCarcinogens/InfectiousAgents/HPV/what-women-should-know-about-cervix-cancer-and-hpv

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