Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)

Infection, Men's Health, Women's Health and Childbirth

Human papillomavirus, HPV, is a sexually transmitted disease that causes genital warts. This virus can lead to cancer if left untreated. The virus is spread via vaginal, anal, and/or oral sex with someone who has it. There often are no symptoms, but the person will still be contagious. Anyone who has sex is at risk for HPV. It also may take years for symptoms to develop. For many people, their body fights off the HPV virus and it clears without any issues. If the virus does not clear, then it can cause health issues, including cervical cancer. HPV is not something many people want to talk about. Since it is a sexually transmitted disease, it is often embarrassing to ask questions about it. HPV is more common than you might think, affecting over 79 million people in the United States. Every year, there are 14 million new cases diagnosed. Research shows that almost all men and women who have been sexually active suffer from HPV at one time or another. It needs to be addressed and treated to prevent severe complications. This article will provide you with needed information on HPV and how it can be managed.

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Symptoms

There are often no symptoms at all for HPV and it could be very advanced when symptoms appear. The symptoms include:
Genital warts. These tend to look like tiny cauliflower, finger-like bumps, or may even be flat. They are usually on or around the opening to the vagina and the cervix. Men may experience them on or around the penis.
Other symptoms. Other non-specific symptoms are irregular bleeding, bleeding after sex, back pain, leg pain, and fatigue, loss of weight, leg swelling, and vaginal discharge.

Risk Factors

Certain things can increase the risk of getting HPV including:

  • Sex before the age of 16
  • Smoking
  • Suppressed immune system
  • More than one sexual partner

Diagnosis

There are no blood tests for HPV. Testing involves seeing the lesions and taking a sample of fluids in the areas (pap test). It is recommended that sexually active women up to age 49 have this test yearly. It needs to be done more often if the test comes back abnormal. There are three different types of this test:

  • Pap test with liquid-based cytology
  • Visual inspection with acetic acid (the doctor stains the lesions and looks at them)
  • HPV testing for high-risk types (some forms are more apt to cause cancer)

Treatments

If you are diagnosed with HPV, the doctor will schedule a colposcopy of the cervix to take samples of the lesions and give them a grade called, cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) and number I, II, or III. Treatment is based on the grade as follows:
CIN I. This can be followed up and watched with a Pap smear every 6 months. The colposcopy is repeated every time the PAP comes back abnormal.
CIN II. If the disease is more advanced and colposcopy fails to stop the spread, a cone biopsy is performed that takes out the inner cone of the cervix.
CIN III. If the disease advances to this stage, a LEEP procedure is done. This is a “loop electrosurgical excision” of the lesions and cauterizes the inside of the cervix.
It is important to understand that any of the procedures that take out part of the cervix can increase the risk for miscarriage. The only permanent treatment is a hysterectomy with the removal of the cervix. However, the virus will persist.

Alternative Treatments and Home Remedies

There are a few things you can try with your doctor’s okay. These natural remedies may help increase the body’s ability to fight off the virus. These include:
Antioxidants. Vitamin E and CoQ-10 may help ward off cancer cells. Some studies have shown this combination can lower evidence of cervical dysplasia.
Folic acid and vitamin B12. These two vitamins have been shown in studies to lower the risk of being diagnosed with HPV if exposed to the virus. to Low folic acid may increase the risk of cervical dysplasia. If you are of childbearing age, it is important to get enough folic acid in your diet or ask your doctor about supplements.
Vitamin C. This is another antioxidant that can help the body repair itself properly. It helps to boost the immune system and may fight off cervical dysplasia.
Green tea extract. Green tea extract may inhibit the growth of cervical cells and lesions. Some people even use an ointment made from green tea directly on any lesions that are outside the body. For internal lesions, there are supplements available.

Prevention

HPV Vaccine. This three-vaccine series is given over six months. Females older than age 12 can get a vaccination against the human papillomavirus. The vaccine can be given up to the age of 26 if not given in childhood. It is best to get the vaccine before the possibility of encountering the virus through sexual contact. According to the World Health Organization, 70% of all cervical cancers worldwide originate with HPV. Women with the vaccination have a reduced risk of abnormal cervical cell changes due to contracting the HPV virus. In under 10 years since the vaccines were released, the level of diagnosed cases of HPV is dropping dramatically. There has also been a drop in the number of abnormal pap smears in women. Research into more effective vaccines to target more strains of HPV is ongoing.

Other preventative measures include:

  • Safe sex
  • Limit sexual partners
  • Sexuality education

Regular screening tests

Lifestyle Changes

Follow up with frequent pap smears. Do not put off follow-up pap smears. HPV can progress to cervical cancer without symptoms.
Talk to your partner. Over 75 percent of people who are reproductive age have the HPV virus and it is nothing to be ashamed of. Try to get rid of the shame factor and talk about HPV. Just be honest about your diagnosis and make an informed decision together on how you both will handle sex. Use a condom always.

References

Barchitta, M., et. al. (2020, May 12). Dietary antioxidant intake and human papillomavirus infection: Evidence from a cross-sectional study in Italy. Nutrients, 12(5), 1384-. Retrieved from PubMed: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32408636/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, January 19). Human papillomavirus (HPV): A fact sheet. Retrieved from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm

Food and Drug Administration. (2019, May 29). HPV (human papillomavirus). Retrieved from Food and Drug Administration: https://www.fda.gov/consumers/women/hpv-human-papillomavirus

National Cancer Institute. (2019, December 20). HPV and pap testing. Retrieved from National Cancer Institute: https://www.cancer.gov/types/cervical/pap-hpv-testing-fact-sheet

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2021, March 03). HPV. Retrieved from MedlinePlus: https://medlineplus.gov/hpv.html

World Health Organization. (2013). Comprehensive cervical cancer prevention and control: A healthier future for girls and women. Retrieved from World Health Organization: https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/78128/9789241505147_eng.pdf;jsessionid=D112E1FF716C174C5BEC0A243B2566CA?sequence=3

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