Human Papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted virus. There are more than 100 strains of HPV of which at least 30 to 40 causes infections in the genital tract.
As common as it is, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) can cause a number of infections including cancer and genital warts. It is important to understand how one acquires HPV and how to prevent severe infection to stay safe and healthy.
Q:WHAT IS HPV?
Dr: HPV or Human Papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted virus. There are more than one hundred strains of HPV of which at least 30 to 40 causes infections in the genital tract.
Q:DO ALL HPV INFECTIONS LEAD TO CANCER?
Dr: No. Most often the body’s immune system is equipped to naturally eliminate HPV and protect the body from infection. However, in certain cases HPV is persistent enough to counter the immune system. This leads to some kinds of infection and even cancer.
Q:WHAT TYPES OF CANCER DOES HPV CAUSE IN WOMEN?
Dr: In women, HPV is the primary cause for Cervical Cancer which is the second most common cancer that affects women. Other than cervical cancer, HPV can also lead to the development of cancers in the vulva, anus, and vagina.
Q:DO MEN ALSO GET HPV RELATED CANCERS?
Dr:Yes, they do. Given that the incidence of HPV related cervical cancer is high, most often people tend to associate HPV infections only with women. But the truth is that HPV is associated with cancers in the penis and the anus when it comes to men. Certain types of throat cancers in men and women are also caused by HPV.
Q:OTHER THAN CANCER, WHAT OTHER CONDITIONS DOES HPV CAUSE?
Dr:A minimal risk manifestation of an HPV infection is a genital wart. These are small bumps that occur around the genital areas like vulva, vagina, cervix, penis, scrotum, urethra, anus, groin, or thigh. They are harmless and can even be left untreated but requires follow up. Treatment depends on how they change over time.
Q:HOW TO PREVENT HPV RELATED COMPLICATIONS?
Dr:The most effective way to prevent an HPV infection is by getting vaccinated. The HPV vaccination rarely causes side-effects. If you have not been vaccinated earlier consult with your doctor on when to take it. Other ways to prevent HPV infection is by practicing safe sex and using a condom. Avoid having multiple sex partners.
Q:WHEN SHOULD THE HPV VACCINE BE TAKEN?
Dr:HPV vaccine can be given to girls and boys between ages 11 and 12. It can be given as early as age 9. It is ideal for girls and boys to receive the vaccine before they have sexual contact and are exposed to HPV. It is given as two doses, 6 to 12 months apart.
Q:DOES THE HPV VACCINE PROTECT AGAINST CANCER?
Dr:There are several strains of HPV and currently available vaccines are effective against most of the strains that cause cancer. However, it is important to take the HPV vaccine before you are exposed to the virus. Given that the virus is sexually transmitted, it is best to finish the HPV doses before the individual gets sexually active.
Q:IS THERE ANY TEST TO DETECT HPV INFECTION?
Dr:Since there are no fool-proof tests to detect HPV given that there are numerous strains and even the possibility of the virus to be dormant and hidden, an HPV test is usually done in conjunction with a Pap Smear Test for women.
Q:WHAT IS A PAP SMEAR TEST?
Dr:A Pap Smear or a Pap Test involves taking cells from the cervix (lower end of uterus i.e., top of vagina), in order to test for Cervical Cancer and/or other infections. The procedure may be accompanied with a pelvic examination and a test for human papillomavirus (HPV).
Q:DOES HPV AFFECT PREGNANCY?
Dr:There is no evidence that HPV causes complications during pregnancy. Neither does it pose an obstacle in terms of fertility and conception. However, if you have or develop genital warts while pregnant, do consult with your doctor on what line of treatment is required. Only if the warts are blocking the birth canal (which is exceptionally rare), the doctor opt for a C-section
SENIOR CONSULTANT – OBSTETRICS & GYNAECOLOGY
MBBS, DGO, MS (OG), DNB (OG) , FMAS