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Human Papilloma Virus: What is it and how to prevent it?

Did you know that a virus can cause cancer? Around 650 women die from Human Papilloma Virus cancer every year. It is very important to visit your gynecologist once a year for a Pap smear test. You should protect your life and your daughter’s life too.

What is Human Papilloma Virus?

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus around the world. There are about 100 types that affect different parts of the body. 30 types of HPV can affect the genital parts. It is transmitted from one person to another by skin to skin contact.

How do people get Human Papilloma Virus?

A person can have HPV through sexual contact. Most infected people do not realize that they hold a type of HPV and thus transmit it to their partner.

What are the symptoms of Human Papilloma Virus?

Most people can carry the virus without showing any symptoms. The most important symptoms are:

  • Genital warts that appear as small bumps on the genital area. These bumps can be flat, raised or in the form of cauliflower. If untreated, they can disappear after some time, increase in size, or remain unchanged. They usually do not turn into cancer.

  • Cervical cancer that stays silent until an advanced level. It is very important to check your doctor for cervical screening test.

  • Other type of cancers as vulvar cancer, vaginal cancer, penile cancer, anal cancer and oropharyngeal cancer.

Can HPV be prevented?

The best way to prevent HPV contamination is to have one relationship with an uninfected partner. Also, using condoms can reduce the risk of contamination but cannot protect you 100%. The FDA has approved the release of 2 vaccines to prevent HPV; Gardasil® and Cervarix®.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), several types of cancer are associated to the Human Papilloma Virus:

  • Cervical cancer: The most common HPV-associated cancer. Almost all cervical cancer is caused by HPV.

  • Vulvar cancer: About 50% are linked to HPV.

  • Vaginal cancer: About 65% are linked to HPV.

  • Penile cancer: About 35% are linked to HPV.

  • Anal cancer: About 95% are linked to HPV.

  • Oropharyngeal cancers (cancers of the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils): About 60% are linked to HPV.

How does Human Papilloma Virus turn into cervical cancer?

Human Papilloma Virus changes normal cells into abnormal ones. Usually the body fights any infection through the immune system. HPV goes away by itself within two years and does not cause health problems. In case the infection is left untreated it can progress to cancer. However, not all women who have HPV will develop cervical cancer. There is no way to know which people will go on to develop cancer or other health problems. Tests as Pap smear can detect early stages of cancer and treatments can be successful at this level.

How is Human Papilloma Virus treated?

There is no treatment for HPV. Usually we treat the warts or the cancer. Around 70% of cases are healed alone. However the virus stays in the body and you should be closely monitored by the doctor.

Treatments may include:

  • Cryotherapy which uses nitrogen to freeze the warts and kill them.

  • Electro cauterization where we burn the warts with an electric current.

  • Laser therapy that uses intense light to destroy the abnormal cells.

  • Excision of the warts.

  • Medical treatment using creams to treat the warts.

Did you know that cervical cancer is the 5th most common cancer in women worldwide! Around 471,000 new cases worldwide are diagnosed each year. It is upsetting to know that a woman dies of cervical cancer approximately every 2 minutes and knowing that there is a vaccine to prevent HPV!

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