Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There are about 100 different types of HPV and 14 of those increase your risk of cervical cancer.
Along with offering the highest level of medical care available to our patients, we’re also dedicated to supplying the information you need to make the best decisions about your health.
To that end, we’re happy to share insights regarding HPV and its link to cervical cancer.
HPV is a viral infection that can eventually cause growths (warts) on the skin and the mucous membranes of various areas of the body.
Some strains of HPV, for instance, invade the genital tissue, including the vulva, vagina, and cervix in women and the penis and scrotum in men.
Other types of HPV include those that cause:
- Common warts, which typically appear on the hands and fingers
- Plantar warts, which form on the soles or “plantar” surfaces of the feet
- Flat warts, often appearing on the face in children
HPV is contagious and quite common in the environment. The type responsible for plantar warts, for instance, is often present on the floors of locker rooms or communal showers at a public pool.
You can prevent a plantar wart infection by wearing mesh shower shoes or other footwear designed for use around water. Notably, however, a healthy immune system is often able to clear HPV before warts develop.
The link between HPV and cervical cancer
Most cervical cancers, about 91%, are caused by HPV according to the most recent CDC statistics.
However, likely due to the HPV vaccine, routine screening Pap smears, and early treatment of precancerous lesions, the number of confirmed cervical cancer diagnoses in the United States has dropped by more than 50% since the 1970s, currently about 14,500 new cases annually.
Millions of sexually active women are diagnosed with HPV every year. Female cancers probably caused by HPV include:
- 11,000 cases of cervical cancer
- 700 cases of vaginal cancer
- 2,800 cases of vulvar cancer
- 2,200 cases of oropharyngeal (mouth and throat) cancer
Thus, while genital HPV should never be ignored, it does not automatically lead to a cancer diagnosis.
Monitoring, treating, and preventing genital HPV
It can take many years to develop cancer linked to HPV. Most cervical cancers are diagnosed between the age of 35 and 44 with about 20% of cases diagnosed after age 65.
Once you’ve been diagnosed with HPV, it’s therefore vital to continue with routine gynecological screening as directed by Dr. Patel.
Otherwise, there is no cure for HPV, but there are numerous therapies available to help ease your symptoms and, most importantly, remove suspicious growths before they evolve into cancer.
Treatments may include:
- Freezing warts with liquid nitrogen (cryosurgery)
- Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) to remove abnormal cells
- Electrocautery to remove warts
Preventing HPV is, of course, the most effective way to avoid cervical cancer. Unfortunately, condoms and other “safe sex” practices used to avoid numerous sexually transmitted infections are not truly effective against genital HPV.
However, there are now three vaccines available to boys and girls over the age of nine that can successfully prevent various strains of genital HPV.