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What you should know about Human Papillomavirus

More than two hundred strains, the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world and possible oncological complications – all this is about the human papillomavirus.

About human papillomavirus

Almost every sexually active person picks up human papillomavirus (HPV) in his/her life. According to the World Health Organization, more than 600 million people in the world are infected with HPV. There are more than two hundred strains of this virus, most do not cause any symptoms and may even disappear without treatment. However, certain types of HPV can even lead to cervical cancer – the main cause of death among women aged 15 to 45 in Ukraine.

Human papillomavirus is detected in 95-99% of women diagnosed with cervical cancer.

The virus lives in squamous epithelial cells on the surface of the skin, vagina, anus, vulva, cervix and glans penis, as well as in the mouth and throat.

ВПЛ HPV
HPV is the most widespread sexually transmitted infection in the world

Kinds of HPV

Human papillomavirus is distinguished by types, each has its number. Approximately 40 strains are sexually transmitted, others may cause papillomas (warts) on the arms and legs. Not every lead to cancer, and the strains are divided by its level of the risk to life.

High Risk

The most dangerous for women are the HPV 16 and 18: responsible for about 70% of cases of cervical cancer. Among the lower types with high risk there are 31, 33, 35, 39, 45, 51, 52, 56, 58, 59, 66, 68, 73 and 82.

Low Risk

90% of the papillomas on your body are caused by the strains with low risk for developing cancer, for example, types 6 and 11. As well as 80% of other strains.

Causes of HPV

You can catch the virus through skin-to-skin contact, most often during sex. In addition, you can become infected after contact with papillomas of another person. Yes, these warts are contagious.

What you need to know about the human papillomavirus

There are certain risk factors that increase your chances of getting infected.

  • Skin damage – scratches, cuts, wounds increase the chances of catching the virus after contact.      
  • The number of sexual partners – the more, the higher the chances of getting infected. At the same time, the risk is higher if your partner has contacts on the side.
  • Low immunity, in particular due to HIV or AIDS, or taking drugs that suppress the immune system.
  • Smoking. 
  • Vitamin D deficiency.
  • Age – numerous studies have demonstrated an increased risk of HPV infection at a younger age: the highest prevalence of the virus is observed among adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 25 years. It is believed that more than 75% of infections occur in people of this age.

Symptoms of HPV

You may not have any symptoms at all. Sometimes the body gets rid of the infection on its own in a few years. Thus, many people will never know that they are infected with HPV. This is the main threat of the virus: infected people infect their partners without even knowing it.

Symptoms of low-risk HPV infection are papillomas (warts) – do not confuse with polyps! They can appear several weeks or months after contact or sexual intercourse with an infected person. Papillomas can be large and small; flat or cauliflower-shaped; white, red, pink, brown or skin-colored. 

And yes, they can appear anywhere on the body.

  • Genital papillomas. They can look like “cauliflower” or have sharp edges. In women, they usually grow on the vulva, but can also appear on the anus, cervix, or vagina. Men can have them on the penis, scrotum or anus.
  • Common papillomas. These rough warts usually show up on the hands and fingers.
  • Plantar papillomas. Hard, grainy, painful bumps that affect the bottom of your feet.
  • Flat papillomas. These are slightly convex spots with a flat top above the skin. They can appear anywhere, but mostly on the face and neck.
ВПЛ HPV
Remember, papillomas are contagious!

These papillomas can hurt, cause itching or burning, etc.

Complications

The main complication is the degeneration of papillomas into cancer. No worries! Most of the HPV’s strains will not lead to this, since the immune system will not allow it. However, the presence of other infections in the body or weak immunity can increase the risk. Moreover, papillomas in the cervix are simply beyond the reach of our immunity.

In addition to the cervix, cancer can develop in the vulva and vagina (75% and 70% of cases of these rare cancers, respectively, are caused by the human papillomavirus).

Cancer may also appear in the oropharynx (70% caused by HPV), anus (over 90%) and penis in men (over 60% caused by HPV).

Anyway, cancer is caused only by highly oncogenic strains. Therefore, it makes no sense to waste your money on the HPV tests for low oncogenic types.

HPV treatment

Human papillomavirus is that very case when prevention gives a 90% guarantee that you will not be infected with strains of HPV of high oncogenic type, so will not have its serious complications.

It’s about vaccination. The main rule is to be vaccinated before starting sexual life. The best age is 11-14 years, but you can be vaccinated from 9 to 26 years. HPV vaccination in Ukraine appeared more than 10 years ago.

I had to explain to both pediatricians and mothers of girls that vaccination against human papillomavirus does not stimulate early sexual activity. Parents had fears that girls after vaccination would think that now they can start sexual life – since “I am now protected”.

The chief physician of the Lior Medical Center, Natalia Silina.

If you are not vaccinated, and it is about cervical HPV, an annual Pap smear (or Pap test) is also a prevention. This is a swab of cervical canal cells, invented in the middle of the 20th century by Greek oncologist, cytology pioneer, Georgios Papanikolaou. This test allows you to detect abnormal cells before they cause cancer, so be sure to do it regularly! 

Important! HPV vaccination does not exclude screening for cervical cancer – liquid cytology once every 1-3 years, depending on age and country of residence. If you smoke, even hookah, gynecologist-endocrinologist Natalia Silina advises undergoing a Pap smear annually.

How can a woman protect herself from human papillomavirus?

ВПЛ HPV

There is primary and secondary prevention of cervical cancer. When talking about human papillomavirus, we always inform a woman or teenage girl that prevention of HPV infection means prevention of cervical cancer. Protecting yourself from HPV, consider that you protect yourself from cervical cancer.

The chief physician of the Lior Medical Center, Natalia Silina

The primary prevention of cervical cancer (CC) includes vaccination against HPV, which is preferably done before the start of sexual activity. Secondary prevention of cervical cancer is the Pap test.

Testing a woman for HPV is considered inappropriate under the age of 30. At this age, up to 75% of sexually active women have the virus. And mostly, it will leave the woman’s body on its own.

Almost 100% protection against cervical cancer is vaccination against HPV and regular Pap tests. In most countries of the world, this test is free for women aged 21 to 65 years and is to be done every two years. For example, in Ukraine and the United Kingdom, a woman can take this test free of charge in a clinic with a family doctor or nurse.

What a woman should know about the Pap smear

If the test shows the presence of abnormal cells, you will be offered a biopsy procedure. The doctor will take a piece of cervical tissue with special forceps, and a histologist will examine it under a microscope and make a diagnosis. If moderate or severe precancerous cells are detected, you may be offered the following treatments:

  • Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP). Using a thin wire loop heated by electric current, a layer of cervical tissue is removed.
  • Cryosurgery. The doctor uses freezing with liquid nitrogen to destroy abnormal tissue.
  • Surgery. This is the physical removal of tissue with atypical cells.
  • Laser surgery. Removal of tissue using intense laser light.

Note that not all techniques are modern

For example, the treatment of cervical pathology with liquid nitrogen (cryodestruction) is an outdated method. Gynecologist Natalia Silina tells more about the treatment of cervical erosion and safe therapy of precancerous cervical conditions in this video.

But the best of all:

Adjusting the hormonal background and eliminating deficiencies of trace elements and vitamins leads to an improvement in the protective properties of the mucous membranes of the intimate area, and papillomas disappear on their own. In my experience, up to 80% of women, after the health correction, did not need to remove papillomas. The body got rid of them on its own.

Chief physician of the Lior Medical Center, Natalia Silina.

Traditionally, I remind you that all prescriptions should be made by your doctor.

Take care of your health and remember: a happy woman is healthy and educated!

Learn more about cervical cancer and download a checklist with questions to help make your visit to the doctor more effective

You can always learn more about your health and understand its needs in our courses, which are dedicated to all stages of Women’s life: A girl becomes a woman, All about you. What it’s like to be a Woman, All about you 35+.

You can always find your doctor at the Lior Medical Center.

Issued by Dr. Silina School of Women’s Health, journalist Maria Zavialova

All materials published on the website “Dr. Silina School of Women’s Health” were reviewed by a gynecologist-endocrinologist, the founder of the educational project, candidate of medical sciences, Natalya Silina.

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