Learn about genital human papillomavirus (HPV), how you can treat it, and what you can do to prevent getting it.
It's important to know that if you have HPV, your body's immune system may kill off the infection within two years. In fact, this happens in 90% of cases. So, an HPV infection that is found today will most likely not be there a year or two from now. But in some cases, HPV can cause genital warts or cervical cancer (and in rarer cases, vulvar, vaginal, anal or penile cancer). This is why it's important to get tested and make sure you don't pass HPV to others.
The HPV tests on the market are only used to help screen for cervical cancer. There is no general test for men or women to check ones overall HPV status, nor is there an HPV test to find HPV on the genitals or in the mouth or throat. HPV can only be diagnosed when genital warts or cervical cancer are present.
Most people who contract HPV notice they have the infection when small bumps or groups of bumps appear in the genital area. They can be small or large, raised or flat, or shaped like cauliflower. A doctor will look at the affected area to ascertain if an HPV infection is present. These warts do not cause cancer. They can be treated with topical ointments, and may disappear on their own with time.
Because most people don't know they have HPV, it's crucial that women have regular pap smears that screen for cervical cancer. Cervical cancer usually does not have symptoms until it is quite advanced. Regular pap smears can spot irregularities like HPV and pre-cancerous cells.
HPV is passed through genital contact, like anal, vaginal or oral sex. You can get it years after you have contact with an infected person. It's possible to have more than one type of HPV. Men and women can prevent HPV with a vaccine like Cervarix or Gardasil, both available at sexual health clinics. Condoms lower the risk of HPV but don't fully protect against it.