What is HPV?

HPV, or the human papillomavirus, refers to a group of over 100 related viruses. More than 40 types of HPV can be passed through sexual contact. HPV infection typically causes warts, both on the genitals and other areas of the body. Some strains are sexually transmitted, and when left untreated can lead to cervical cancer.

How do you get HPV?

HPV is spread through:

  • Vaginal, oral, or anal sex
  • Genital touching
  • Childbirth from a woman to her baby

HPV can spread even if there are no symptoms, which means you can get HPV from someone who has no signs or symptoms.

What are the symptoms of HPV?

Most people with HPV do not have any symptoms because they don’t always get the chance to develop because in many cases, your immune system can fight off the infection.

When men, as well as women, do have symptoms, genital warts are the most common visible sign. Genital warts usually appear as a small bump or group of bumps in the genital area. They can be small or large, raised or flat, or shaped like a cauliflower. Doctors can usually diagnose warts by looking at the genital area. 

Because symptoms don’t always show up, it is important for women to have regular Pap tests as early as age 21. The Pap test can find changes in the cervix caused by HPV.

What causes HPV?

The HPV virus enters your body, typically through abrasion or a small cut in your skin. Skin-to-skin contact is a common way the virus is transferred. Genital HPV infections are transferred through sexual activity, and HPV warts are especially contagious.

What are the complications and risk factors for HPV?

Most HPV infections don’t lead to cancer, but there are some types of sexually-transmitted HPV infections that can lead to cervical cancer or cancer of the anus, penis, vagina, vulva, and throat.

Some of the risk factors include:

  • Aging
  • Damaged skin
  • Personal contact
  • Numerous sexual partners
  • Weakened immune system

How is HPV diagnosed?

Your Women’s Health Specialist uses diagnostic tests such as a physical exam to check for warts, a Pap test, an HPV test, a DNA test, or an acetic acid test.

A Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for cancers and precancers in the cervix. Precancers are cell changes that can be caused by HPV. If HPV doesn’t go away on its own or is not treated, it can lead to cervical cancer.

If the cells collected from your cervix during your Pap test look abnormal, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer, but it tells your doctor that other tests, such as a colposcopy, need to be done for confirmation for HPV or cervical cancer.

An HPV test looks for HPV in cervical cells.

What are the treatments for HPV?

The Women’s Health Specialists of Dallas team provides several treatment options for HPV. Once your doctor diagnoses you with HPV, your treatment plan will focus on removing problematic warts. There are several methods for doing that, including:

  • Surgery
  • Medications, such as salicylic acid
  • Cryotherapy (freezing with liquid nitrogen)
  • Electrocautery (burning with an electrical current)

Is there a vaccine available for HPV?

Gardasil 9 is a vaccine (injection/shot) given to individuals 9 through 45 years of age to help protect against diseases caused by some types of HPV.

What diseases can Gardasil 9 help protect against?

In girls and women 9 through 45 years of age, Gardasil 9 helps protect against:

  • Cervical cancer
  • Vulvar and vaginal cancers
  • Anal cancer
  • Genital warts
  • Precancerous cervical, vaginal, vulvar, and anal lesions

After having the 3 required doses of the vaccine, you should continue to get routine cervical cancer screening. Also, note that Gardasil 9 may not fully protect everyone who gets the vaccine, and it does not protect against HPV types that you already have.

To learn more, check out these Gardasil 9 FAQs.

This information is provided for informational educational purposes only, and should not be considered as individual medical advice. Please discuss your specific situation with your medical provider.

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