HPV in Women

What is HPV?

HPV is the most common Sexually transmitted infections — there are more than 200 strains that we know of — of them about 40 can infect the genital area.

HPV is spread through having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus.

Unless HPV develops into genital warts, most people diagnosing at home will never know they’ve been infected. The infection usually goes away on its own. But, when they are present, the symptoms of HPV in women commonly include:

  • Abnormal changes to cervical cells (found via a pap smear)
  • Genital warts, appearing as small cauliflower-like bumps, flat sores, or tiny stem-like protrusions

How can I avoid HPV?

Today, three vaccines prevent infections of the two types of HPV that cause about 70% of cervical cancers. One also prevents infection of the two types of HPV that cause 90% of genital warts. Not everyone, however, is a candidate for the vaccinations, which are typically recommended only for those ages nine to 26.

The most effective way of preventing HPV from becoming cervical cancer, is routine gynecological checkups. Pap smears can identify any abnormal cell changes on the cervix, and HPV tests can identify infection or recent infection with human papillomavirus.

What if I think I have HPV?

While there is no test that can determine if a person has the HPV virus, it’s always best to visit with your obstetrician-gynecologist if you have concerns. Typically, though, HPV clears on its own. However, if genital warts are present and uncomfortable they can be treated using everything from topical ointment to freezing to even surgery.

With HPV, while it’s not a curable infection, individuals who stay healthy (they are active and don’t smoke, for example) and have a healthy immune system are more likely to clear on their own, and are at less risk of HPV becoming cancer or genital warts.