HPV in Women
Most forms of HPV in women will clear up on their own. Almost every sexually active woman will contract the HPV virus during her life. However, there are high risk and low risk forms of HPV which women need to be concerned about.
According the Centers for Disease Control, there are over 40 types of HPV that can infect the genitals of females. These HPV types can also infect the mouth and throat.
HPV Health Concerns for Women:
Genital warts and anal warts are caused by the human pappilloma virus, HPV. The warts can come in many shapes and sizes from small to large, raised or flat. The appearance is many times described as a cauliflower. Warts can appear weeks or months after having contact with an infected partner. Many times the warts will go away on their own, but some cases of warts can be persistent and keep growing. If warts are in the vagina, they may not be visible but could cause bleeding or a discharge. Genital warts usually are not cancerous, however, it’s important to pay attention to persistent warts because they could be more serious and turn into cancer.
Cervical Cancer and Other Cancers
Almost all cervical cancer is caused by HPV. Ongoing research is still being done to understand how and why HPV causes these cancers. Cervical cancer is one of the easiest cancers to treat if caught early. It’s important to see a health care provider to be screened for cervical cancer. For women, there are two tests: The PAP test or PAP smear and HPV test. The PAP is recommended for women 21-65 and maybe as young as 18 depending on sexual activity. The HPV test is recommended for women over 30.
Cancers of the vulva, vagina or anus are also caused by HPV. These cancers are rare. It’s important to contact your health care provider if you have bleeding that is not caused by your period or notice any lumps or growths in the genital or anal area.
Another type of cancer, not related to the genital region is head and neck cancer called oropharyngeal cancer. This is cancer in the back of throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils. Risk factors of developing this kind of cancer in the past was related to alcohol and tobacco use. Now, researchers have found that HPV is a prime factor. The mucous membranes of the throat and mouth are similar to the cervix, which makes for a fertile place for the HPV infection to develop. More men with HPV develop this type of cancer than women. When caught early enough, oral, throat, head and neck cancers are highly curable.
HPV and Pregnancy
If a woman is infected with HPV when she is pregnant, there usually aren’t any problems. However, if the HPV produces genital warts, these can grow during pregnancy. A rare condition called recurrent respiratory papillomatosis is when children develop warts in the throat.
Cervical cell changes can occur due to HPV. That’s why it’s important to have routine cervical cancer screening even during pregnancy.
Most forms of HPV in women will clear on their own. It’s important to do what you can to limit your risk of HPV infection. Getting treatment for genital warts and having regular screenings will help you to take charge of your health and well being.