HPV (human papilloma virus) is a group of more than 150 related viruses, named for the warts (papillomas) that certain types of HPV can cause. HPV is considered a sexually transmitted disease, and is most commonly spread through vaginal, anal, and oral sex. However, it can actually be transmitted through any intimate skin to skin contact with an infected individual. HPV is so prevalent that nearly all sexually active adults will come in contact with it at some point. HPV can be spread even if the infected person has never exhibited any symptoms. In addition, symptoms can develop years after contact with the virus. Many types of HPV can cause genital, rectal and anal warts. Over a dozen other types can lead to cervical cancer and some cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus and throat.
Most of the time infections caused by HPV clear up on their own. However, sometimes, especially among older women, they can linger due to an impaired immune system. When this occurs, the virus can transform cervix cells into precancerous cells. Usually, these precancerous cells return to normal themselves. If they don’t, they can be treated, but only if detected during a Pap test. If these cells don’t remedy themselves and go undetected, cancer can develop. Therefore, it’s imperative that every woman receive regular Pap tests.
It is also important to note that HPV can lead to more than just cervical cancer, as the virus can convert skin into a malignancy. Individuals with HPV can develop any skin cancer in the genital area, including vulvar, rectal, and vaginal cancer.
No blood test can diagnose HPV. If genital warts aren't visible, one the following tests may be used to help determine its presence:
• Pap test
• HPV DNA test
The Gardasil-9 vaccine is extremely effective in preventing many types of HPV that cause: cervical, vaginal, vulvar cancers in women, anal and throat cancers in women and men, and penile cancer in men. Gardasil-9 also prevents a number of types of HPV that cause genital warts. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that both preteen girls and boys receive the vaccine. However, it may be given as early as age 9 through age 26 years. The vaccine is given in three doses within 6 months. Patients must receive all three doses for the vaccine to be effective. The vaccine does not protect against all types of cancer-causing HPV. Therefore, even women who are vaccinated should still be screened for genital skin cancer and have regular Pap tests.
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