HPV is the most common STD that affects 80 percent of people who are sexually active. In the United States, one in four people is suffering from the disease. The majority of those affected people are women. HPV is contagious and it can be transmitted via skin-to-skin contact. Kissing, having oral, vaginal or anal sex can make the virus spread to others. HPV is a serious disease. But, when it infects women, it can be more dangerous than ever. Here are some important things about HPV that every woman should know.
5 Important Things to Know About HPV in Women
1. HPV can cause genital warts
There are two strains of HPV: low-risk and high-risk. 90 percent of all cases of genital warts result from low-risk HPVs. Genital warts are soft bumps that occur on the genitals. These bumps can be flesh-colored or white. They can grow individually or in clusters. Also, they can be flat or raised, small or large, and especially resemble a cauliflower. Genital warts are not painful, but can be itchy and uncomfortable.
In women, genital warts can appear on the following regions:
- On the cervix
- Around the vagina and anus
- Inside or outside the vagina and anus
The warts can also appear on the tongue, mouth, lips or throat of a woman who has had oral sex with an infected partner.
Similar to men, HPV in women can cause genital warts. But sometimes, these warts can be involved in cancer of the cervix and vulva. Still, the chances of that happening are quite rare.
While genital warts can go away on their own, the HPV still lives inside the body. Therefore, infected women may have several outbreaks during the course of their life. To eliminate genital warts and relieve irritating symptoms, some treatment options can help.
- Topical treatment- VidaroX
- Excision, or cutting off warts
- Cryosurgery, or freezing warts
- Electro-cautery, or burning off warts
- Laser treatments
To prevent genital warts, avoid having sex during an outbreak. And, use protection every time you have sex to reduce the risk of spreading HPV.
2. Many women don’t even know they have HPV
HPV in women does not always show up symptoms. But when they do occur, you may notice genital warts after 2 weeks to 2 months of infection. If you can’t see the warts, you may still notice other symptoms, such as:
- Vaginal discharge
Those symptoms only occur in the affected areas. Unlike other infections, HPV doesn’t cause bigger symptoms on the whole system. For example, herpes infections cause fevers, headaches, fatigue and many other flu-like symptoms.
Normally, the body’s systems take care of HPV and rid of it on their own. This process can take 1 to 2 years. That’s why many women don’t even know they have the virus.
3. High-risk strains of HPV can lead to several types of cancer
Most high-risk HPV strains do not cause cancer and can go away on their own. But some strains may persist for years, leading to cell changes. If untreated, these changes can progress into cancer. Here are several types of cancers caused by high-risk HPVs.
Cervical cancer. It’s caused by HPV types 16 and 18. Symptoms include a foul odor, heavy vaginal discharge, vaginal bleeding and pelvic pain.
Anal cancer. HPV type 16 can be responsible for most cases of anal cancer. Symptoms include anal itching, anal bleeding and pain in the site of the anus.
Throat cancer. HPV type 16 has been linked to throat cancer. Symptoms include pain or difficulty breathing or swallowing, sore throat and constant coughing. Abnormal growths or lumps on the tongue, tonsils and in the middle part of your throat.
Rarer cancers. Vulvar cancers and vaginal cancers also result from HPV type 16. But they’re quite rarer than those above cancers.
It can take several years for cancer to develop in women with high-risk strains. But luckily, early detection and treatment can prevent them from turning into cancer.
Read more: 10 Cancer Symptoms Women Often Ignore
4. Screening tests are important for detecting HPV in women
To identify HPV in women, three options are available:
A Pap test. This test is recommended for women aged 21 and 29. It can help identify cell changes or abnormal cells in the cervix. Every woman should have this test every three years.
An HPV test. This test is used to check for the virus. It should be done every five years.
Both tests. They are recommended for women 30 and older and should be done every five years.
There is no screening test for men at this time. To prevent your male partners from getting HPV, the best way is to practice safe sex by using a condom.
5. Vaccines are available to protect women against HPV infections
Currently, getting HPV vaccines is the best and only way to prevent HPV in women. Experts find that there are three types of HPV vaccines. They are Gardasil, Gardasil 9, and Cervarix. Gardasil can prevent HPV types that cause genital warts. Gardasil 9 can prevent HPV types 6, 11, 16, 18 and five other types that cause cancer. Cervarix can prevent HPV types 16 and 18 that cause cervical cancer.
It’s recommended that all children between the ages of 11 and 12 should get HPV vaccine. Women should also get the shot before their sexual activity to avoid infections.
To prevent HPV, moreover, all women should take the few tips below.
- Abstain from sex if necessary.
- Limit your number of sexual partners.
- Use a condom.
- Get the Pap test.
- Avoid having sex at an early age.
- Adopt a healthy lifestyle.
Read more: How to Have a Safe Sex