Having an HPV infection not only causes warts on different parts of the body, but it can also lead to cervical cancer. There are more than 100 varieties of the human papillomavirus (HPV).
Different strains can cause warts on different parts of your body. For instance, some types of HPV cause plantar warts on the feet, while other strains of HPV are responsible for genital warts. More than 40 different strains of HPV affect the genital area.
Most strains of HPV do not lead to cancer. However the are some strains that can lead to cervical cancer. There are several vaccines available that help protect against some types of HPV. The strains that are likely to cause genital warts or cervical cancer can usually be prevented with a vaccine.
Problems associated with HPV
You’re body’s immune system is usually able to fight off an HPV infection before any problems occur. If and when warts do appear, their appearance may vary depending on which strain of HPV has been contracted.
- Genital warts. Genital warts may appear as flat lesions, small cauliflower-like bumps or tiny stem-like protrusions. In women, genital warts appear most commonly on the vulva but may also occur near the anus, on the cervix or in the vagina.
- Common warts. Common warts appear as rough, raised bumps that usually occur on the hands, fingers or elbows. In most cases, common warts are simply a nuisance because of their appearance, but they may also be painful or susceptible to injury or bleeding.
- Plantar warts. Plantar warts are hard, grainy growths that usually appear on the heels or balls of your feet, areas that feel the most pressure. These warts may cause discomfort or pain.
- Flat warts. Flat warts are flat-topped, slightly raised lesions darker than your regular skin color. They usually appear on your face, neck or on areas that have been scratched. HPV infections that cause flat warts usually affect children, adolescents and young adults.
Most types of cancer are caused by two types of HPV, and these two types usually don’t cause warts, so women usually don’t know they have been infected. There are usually no signs of early stages of cervical cancer. It is important for women to get their pap test, which can detect precancerous cells and get tested for HPV.
When to see doctor
Genital HPV is transmitted through sexual intercourse, anal sex and other skin-to-skin contact in the genital region. Oral sex can also transmit HPV and can cause oral and upper respiratory lesions.
HPV can also be transmitted from mother to baby during delivery. This exposure may cause HPV infection in the baby’s genitals or upper respiratory system.
Infections from HPV are common. Risk factors for HPV include:
- Number of sexual partners. The more sexual partners you have increases the likely hood of contracting HPV. Having sex with someone who has had multiple sex partners also increases your risk.
- Weakened immune system. People whose immune systems are weakened are also at a higher risk for contracting HPV. Some reasons a person’s immune system may be weakened could be because of HIV/AIDS or leukemia.
- Damaged Skin. Areas of the skin that have been cut or punctured are at a higher risk of contracting HPV and developing common warts.
- Personal contact. Touching someone’s warts or not wearing protection before touching surfaces that have been exposed to HPV-such as public swimming pools or showers- may increase your risk of HPV infection.
- Oral and upper respiratory lesions. Lesions that form on you tongue, tonsils, soft palate, or within your larynx and nose can be cause by HPV.
- Cervical cancer is commonly caused by two specific varieties of HPV. However, these two strains may also cause cancers of the genitals, anus, mouth and upper respiratory tract.
If you believe you have an HPV infection you can see your primary care doctor. Also, depending on where you warts are located you may prefer to see a specialist, such as a dermatologist, podiatrist, or gynecologist.
What questions to expect from Dr. De Leon
- When did you begin experiencing symptoms?
- What are your symptoms?
- Where have you noted lesions?
- Are the lesions painful?
Dr. De Leon might be able to diagnose an HPV infection if there are visible genital warts. If there are no visible signs, you may need one of the following tests:
- Vinegar (acetic acid) solution test. De Leon might apply a vinegar solution that can turn HPV infected genital warts white. This can help identify flat lesions that are difficult to see.
- Pap Test. The pap test can detect abnormal cells that can lead to cancer.
- DNA test. This test can detect the DNA of high-risk types of HPV that are linked to genital cancers. The test is done by taking cell samples from the cervix.
Warts often go away without treatment, however even if your warts have disappeared or have been removed, you can still have the HPV virus and can transmit the virus to the others.
For warts medications used are usually applied directly to the lesion and usually several applications are needed before they are successful. Examples include:
- Salicylic acid. These are over-the-counter medications that work by removing layers of a wart little by little. This is used on common warts and shouldn’t be used on the face as it can cause skin irritation.
- Imiquimod (aldara, zyclara). These are prescription creams that may help your immune system’s ability to fight HPV. Common side effects of imiquimod include redness and swelling at the application site.
- Podofilox (Condylox). This is another topical prescription, podofilox works by destroying genital wart tissue. Pain and itching where it is applied is a side effect of Podofilox.
- This is a chemical that burns off genital warts and may cause local irritation.
Surgical and other procedures
Dr. De Leon may suggest one of the following procedures if medications don’t work.
- Freezing with liquid nitrogen (cryotherapy)
- burning with an electrical current (electrocautery)
- Surgical removal
- laser surgery
Preventing common warts caused by HPV is difficult. If you have common warts you can prevent the spread by not picking at the wart and not biting your nails.
You can reduce your chances of developing genital warts and other HPV related genital lesions by:
- Being in a mutually monogamous sexual relationship
- Reducing the number of sexual partners you have
- Using latex condoms which can reduce the transmission of some strains of HPV
Currently there are 3 vaccines that help protect against some strains of HPV. Gardisal protects against 4 strains of HPV that are likely to cause genital warts and cervical cancer. Gardisal 9protects against 9 strains of HPV that are most commonly cause genital warts, vulvar cancer, anal cancer and cervical cancer. Gardisal is recommended for women, girls and boys ages 9-26. Gardisal 9 is recommended for women 9-26 and boys 9-15. Each of these vaccines are done in three doses.
The third vaccine available is Cervarix. Cervarix protects against two different types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. Cerivax is also given in 3 doses. Cervarix is approved for women aged 9-25.
Each of these vaccines may not fully protect everyone or protect someone already exposed to the strains covered in the vaccines. Also you can still be infected with strains of HPV that are not covered by the vaccines, so you should continue your normal screenings for cervical cancer.
If you have any questions you can always make an appointment and speak with Dr. De Leon.