Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a common virus that affects both males and females.
There are more than 100 types of the virus. In fact, certain types of HPV cause
common warts on the hands and feet. Most types of HPV are harmless, do not cause
any symptoms, and go away on their own.
About 40 types of HPV are known as genital HPV as they affect the genital area.
Up to 80% of males and females will be infected with at least one type of genital
HPV at some time.
Genital HPV types may be "high-risk" types (such as HPV types 16 and 18) that have
been shown to cause some forms of cancers, or "low-risk" types (such as HPV types
6 and 11) that can cause genital warts.
HPV is easily spread through direct skin to skin contact. Anyone who has any kind
of sexual activity involving genital contact could get genital HPV. That means it's
possible to get the virus without having intercourse. And, because many people who
have HPV may not show any signs or symptoms, they can transmit the virus without
even knowing it. A person can be infected with more than one type of HPV.
It is estimated that many people get their first type of HPV infection within their
first few years of becoming sexually active.
Genital HPV infection is not something to feel embarrassed or ashamed about. It
is very common and for the majority of people who have HPV, the body's defences
are enough to clear the virus. Up to 90% of infections are “cleared” within the
first 36 months. It could almost be considered a normal part of being sexually active.
How will I know if I have HPV infection?
Because HPV infection does not usually show any signs or symptoms, you probably
won't know you have it. Most people can therefore get HPV and pass it on without
even knowing it.
Consequences of HPV infection
In most people HPV is harmless and has no symptoms, but in some people the virus
may persist and lead to disease of the genital area, including:
In males: genital warts and some anal cancers.
In females: cervical cancer, some vaginal, vulval and anal cancers and genital warts.
What are genital warts?
Genital warts are benign, flesh-coloured growths that are most often caused by certain
"low-risk" types of HPV.
Genital warts most often appear on the external genitals or near the anus of males
and females. Genital warts may cause symptoms such as burning, itching, and pain.
Up to 90% of genital warts cases are due to infection with "low-risk" HPV types 6
and 11. The types of HPV that cause genital warts are different from the "high-risk"
types that can cause cancer.
Genital warts are quite common. Approximately 1% of young sexually active people
have them at any one time. After sexual contact with an infected person, genital
warts may appear within weeks, months, or not at all.
How are genital warts diagnosed?
A healthcare professional can usually recognise genital warts just by seeing them.
About anal cancer
Anal cancer affects both males and females and although relatively rare, in 2005
there were 149 cases in males and 176 cases in females.
Infection with certain types of "high-risk" HPV types (such as HPV types 16 and 18)
is a risk factor for anal cancers as well as other risk factors including cigarette
smoking, immunodeficiency syndromes and a previous history of genital cancers.
How are anal cancers diagnosed?
Anal cancer sometimes has no symptoms at first. Common symptoms can include bleeding
and discomfort in the area. Other symptoms can include pain, itching, straining
during a bowel movement, change in bowel habits, change in the diameter of the stool,
discharge from the anus and swollen lymph nodes in the anal or groin area.
A doctor may diagnose anal cancer using a number of tests such as a physical exam
and history, a digital rectal examination (DRE), an anoscopy, a protoscopy, a biopsy
or an ultrasound.
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