HPV or human papillomavirus is the most common sexually-transmitted disease. It is an infection that can lead to genital warts in both men and women depending on the strain of the virus. However, many people have the virus without any symptoms or warts.

Are there different HPV viruses?
There are more than 100 types of HPV viruses and some can lead to different types of cancers. About 14 are high-risk HPV. Two of these, HPV 16 and HPV 18 are responsible for most HPV-related cancers. These two types of HPV cause over 70 percent of cervical cancer. In those with a normal immune system it can take some 15 to 20 years for cervical cancer to develop from a HPV infection. If your immune system is compromised a cancer may develop in less time.

Can an HPV infection lead to other problems?
Most men and women will not have any long-term problems from the HPV infection as their immune system will likely destroy it within a couple of years. However, a small number of infections can trigger the development of a cancer with the most common being a cervical cancer. Other cancers may occur in the throat, the vulva, vagina, anus or penis (especially in the uncircumcised).

How is HPV spread?
Spread of the HPV virus is through skin to skin contact. Intercourse is not required although direct sexual contact is the most common form of spread. Both men and women can contract HPV from having vaginal, oral or anal sex. Most people are unaware that they have the HPV infection and transmit it to their partner unknowingly.

How is HPV diagnosed?

  • In a woman, if there are no obvious warts it begins with a PAP test. The pathologist will look for cellular and or precancerous changes in the cervical  cells. If there are changes on the PAP smear, an HPV DNA test may be ordered to screen for high-risk HPV. Colposcopy or lighted-microscopic examination of the cervix can help determine if a treatment to the cervix is needed.
  • In a man, if genital warts are not visible the penis can be wrapped with vinegar soaked gauze for 3-5 minutes and infected areas will turn white. However, this test is subjective and difficult to interpret.

Can HPV be treated?
There is no cure that can eliminate HPV permanently. However, most will disappear spontaneously after a period of time.

  • In a woman warts or abnormal areas can be treated with cryo-ablation, laser LEEP or conization.
  • In a man, warts can be treated with one of several options: topical agents such as Condylox may be used for four weeks, laser ablation, cryo-ablation, electrocautery or surgical excision. If there are no visible areas then the penile skin can be checked with the vinegar test and highlighted areas can be treated with laser or cryo-ablation. These treatments can scar the penile skin however.

Can HPV be vaccinated against?
All HPV vaccines protect against HPV 16 and HPV 18. These types cause the greatest risk for cervical cancer.
Both preteen boys and girls should be vaccinated. Three separate shots are required with the second given two months after the first and the last one four months after the second shot.

How do I prevent myself from getting HPV?
HPV vaccination, avoid sexual intercourse, use condoms and or, a dental dam.
Additionally, women should undergo regular PAP screening.

How much does HPV vaccination cost?
The cash pay cost of the HPV vaccine is about $220 per dose and three doses are required.
Get a cash pay cost for the HPV vaccination from a provider or drugstore near you.

Cash pay pricing beats insurance-based pricing and hassles. Check prices before you book. 

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Written by HEALTHdrum