Q. What is HPV?
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.
Q. 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
evening knowing it.
Q. What are the consequences of HPV?
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.
Q. 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 commonly 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.
Q. How are genital warts treated?
Genital warts can disappear on their own without treatment. However, there is no
way to tell if they will grow larger or disappear. Depending on the size and location
of the genital warts, there are several treatment options. A healthcare professional
may choose to apply a special cream or solution to the warts. Some genital warts
can be removed by freezing, burning or using laser treatment.
However, no matter the treatment, there's a chance that genital warts will reappear
after treatment, since the types of HPV that cause them may still be present.
Q. How common is 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.
Q. How are anal cancers treated?
For patients diagnosed with anal cancer the main treatment options are radiation
therapy, chemotherapy and surgery.
Q. What can I do to help protect myself from HPV infection and disease?
Click here for more information.
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