Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, is a common virus that affects both females and males. 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, don’t 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 90% of females and males will be infected with at least one genital type of HPV at some time in their lives.
Genital HPV types may be “high-risk” types (such as HPV types 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58) that have been shown to cause some forms of cancer, or “low-risk” types (such as HPV types 6 and 11) that can cause genital warts and usually benign (abnormal but non-cancerous) changes in the cervix. Both “high-risk” and “low-risk” types of HPV can cause abnormal changes.
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. 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.
Genital HPV infection is not something to feel embarrassed or ashamed about. It’s very common and for the majority of people, the body’s defences are enough to clear the virus.
HOW WILL I KNOW IF I HAVE HPV?
Because HPV infection doesn’t usually show any signs, 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 genital warts and cancers of the anus.
ABOUT GENITAL WARTS
Genital warts are benign, flesh-coloured growths that are most often caused by certain “low-risk” types of HPV (types 6 and 11).
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. The types of HPV that cause genital warts are different from the "high-risk" types that can cause cancer.
After sexual contact with an infected person, genital warts may appear within weeks, months, or not at all.
HOW ARE GENITAL WARTS DIAGNOSED?
A doctor can usually recognise genital warts just by seeing them.
HOW ARE GENITAL WARTS TREATED?
Genital warts can disappear on their own without treatment, however there’s no way of actually knowing if they will disappear or grow larger. Depending on size and location, there are several treatment options. A special cream or solution may be applied to the warts. Some genital warts can be removed by either 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.
ABOUT ANAL CANCERS
Anal cancer is an uncommon cancer that affects both males and females. Infection with certain types of “high-risk” HPV is a risk factor for anal cancers as well as other risk factors, including cigarette smoking and immunodeficiency syndromes.
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, digital rectal examination (DRE), anoscopy, proctoscopy, biopsy or ultrasound.
HOW ARE ANAL CANCERS TREATED?
For patients diagnosed with anal cancers, the main treatment options are surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.