So You’re HPV Positive. How is it Treated?

Take a deep breath. You’re going to be fine. There is no known treatment for Human Papillomavirus (HPV), but many of its symptoms are treatable. In most cases, HPV will go away on its own. If it does not, it can lead to health problems. Talk with your doctor to find out if you need treatment.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease. It can be contracted through skin-to-skin contact. And you’re not alone. About 79 million Americans are infected with HPV, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

So what are some of the health risks and how are they treated? 

HPV is classified as low risk and high risk viruses. Certain types of low risk HPV can cause genital warts. These can be treated by a healthcare provider.

High risk HPV is associated with the potential to cause certain types of cancer. The CDC gathered data from 2012 through 2016 and found that an estimated 44,000 cases of HPV-associated cancers occur in the United States each year. By gender, that’s about 25,000 cases in women and 19,000 among men. While that may seem high, data shows you have less than a 0.001% chance of developing cancer from HPV. 

Treating Genital Warts 

About 90% of genital warts are caused by HPV and typically appear without any symptoms. Depending on the location, the warts can be painful. Common areas for warts to appear are the genital regions, hands and feet, lips and tongue.

If left untreated, genital warts may go away on their own, remain the same, or increase in size.

Many treatments are applied directly to the skin in the form of a cream, resin, or chemicals. Larger warts that don’t respond to medication may need to be removed by surgery. This involves either freezing the wart, burning it off, excision, or laser treatments. 

Warts are not commonly associated with causing cancer.

Cancer Risks 

Cancer occurs when cells begin to grow continuously and out of control. Cancer often takes years to develop in HPV patients, if it develops at all. A positive HPV test does not mean you already have cancer, nor does it mean you will ever develop cancer. 

HPV can cause cervical cancer or cancer in various genital regions, as well as cancer in the back of your throat.

Cervical Cancer

Regular Pap Smears are the first step to catching cervical cancer. A Pap smear, also called a Pap test, involves collecting cells from your cervix for testing. The cervix is the lower, narrow end of the uterus.

Symptoms of cervical cancer include vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods or after menopause, heavy, watery or bloody vaginal discharge, or pelvic pain. 

Oropharyngeal Cancer

HPV can cause oropharyngeal cancer, which forms in the back of the throat, base of the tongue and/or tonsils. This is most commonly caused by HPV-16. About 10% of men and 3.6% of women have oral HPV, according to the CDC. The CDC also notes that it is unclear if HPV is the only factor involved in causing oropharyngeal cancer.

Symptoms can include a long-lasting sore throat, earaches, hoarseness or swollen lymph nodes.

Anal Cancer

HPV can also cause anal cancer. The anus, which allows you to control your bowel movements, has a similar anatomy and environment to the cervix. This is an ideal environment for HPV to live and grow and may potentially cause pre-cancer or cancer of the anus.

Fortunately, an anal HPV test or anal Pap Test can now easily and painlessly detect the presence of the virus and any abnormal cells.

Symptoms of anal cancer may be rectal bleeding, anal discomfort or abnormal changes of the cells in the anus identified on a Pap Test.

Cancer Treatment

In both men and women, the size of the tumor, location, how much the cancer has spread and where it spread to determine what treatment option is best for them.

There are five standard types of treatments for patients with cancer.

Surgery

Surgery is used to physically remove tumors from the body, to shrink a tumor or to ease cancer symptoms. There are many techniques, including ones that are done openly with one large excision, minimally invasive, or non-invasive.

Radiation therapy

High doses of radiation are used to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors. There are two types of radiation therapy: external and internal.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the most common method for treating cancer and is administered through medications. It can be given through infusions, pills, shots, creams, or directly to the cancer during surgery.

Targeted therapy

Like its name suggests, targeted therapy administers medication that specifically targets and blocks the growth and spread of cancer. It is directed at specific molecules and proteins that play a key role in cancer cell growth.

Immunotherapy

Your immune system is important when it comes to fighting cancer and immunotherapy ensures it is ready for the task. It can be administered orally, topically, or invasively.

Conclusion 

Although there is no treatment for HPV itself, there are ways to manage the side effects of the virus. 

If you are HPV positive, but unsure what type of HPV you have, SelfCollect has the answer. We offer an optional full genotyping add-on test to identify all variations of the HPV virus.

If you’ve not yet had yourself tested or it came back negative, don’t worry. You can lower your transmission of HPV by practicing safe sex by using a condom and dental dam and by limiting your number of sexual partners. 

You can also get vaccinated. If you’re under the age of 45, consider looking into Gardasil, which is the most common HPV vaccine.

If in doubt, get tested. SelfCollect offers a highly accurate HPV home test kit for men and women. The kit is sent through the mail in a nondescript package and includes instructions, collection materials, your order number and a pre-paid return envelope.