Genital human papillomavirus (also called HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). There are more than 40 HPV types that can infect the genital areas of males and females. These HPV types can also infect the mouth and throat. Most people who become infected with HPV do not even know they have it. HPV is not the same as herpes or HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). These are all viruses that can be passed on during sex, but they cause different symptoms and health problems.
How do people get HPV?: HPV is passed on through genital contact, most often during vaginal and anal sex. HPV may also be passed on during oral sex and genital-to-genital contact. HPV can be passed on between straight and same-sex partners—even when the infected partner has no signs or symptoms.
A person can have HPV even if years have passed since he or she had sexual contact with an infected person. Most infected persons do not realize they are infected or that they are passing the virus on to a sex partner. It is also possible to get more than one type of HPV.
Very rarely, a pregnant woman with genital HPV can pass HPV to her baby during delivery. In these cases, the child can develop juvenile-onset of Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis (JORRP).
Signs & Symptoms of HPV-Related Complications: Genital warts usually appear as a small bump or groups of bumps in the genital area. They can be small or large, raised or flat, or shaped like a cauliflower. Health care providers can diagnose warts by looking at the genital area during an office visit. Warts can appear within weeks or months after sexual contact with an infected partner—even if the infected partner has no signs of genital warts. If left untreated, genital warts might go away, remain unchanged, or increase in size or number. They will not turn into cancer.
Cervical cancer usually does not have symptoms until it is quite advanced. For this reason, it is important for women to get regular. Screening tests can find early signs of disease so that problems can be treated early, before they ever turn into cancer.
Other HPV-related cancers might not have signs or symptoms until they are advanced and hard to treat. These include cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and head and neck.
Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis (RRP) causes warts to grow in the throat. It can sometimes block the airway, causing a hoarse voice or troubled breathing.
How Does HPV Cause Genital Warts & Cancer? HPV can cause normal cells on infected skin to turn abnormal. Most of the time, you cannot see or feel these cell changes. In most cases, the body fights off HPV naturally and the infected cells then go back to normal.
But in some cases when the body does not fight off HPV, HPV can cause visible changes in the form of genital warts or cancer. Warts can appear within weeks or months after getting HPV.
Cancer often takes years to develop after getting HPV.
- HPV (the virus). Approximately 20 million Americans are currently infected with HPV.
- Another 6 million people become newly infected each year.
- HPV is so common that at least 50% of sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives.
- Genital warts– about 1% of sexually active adults in the U.S. have genital warts at any one time.
- Cervical cancer- Each year, about 12,000 women get cervical cancer in the U.S.
- Other cancers that can be caused by HPV are less common than cervical cancer.
Each year in the U.S., there are about:
- 3,700 women who get Vulvar Cancer
- 1,000 women who get Vaginal Cancer
- 1,000 men who get Penile Cancer
- 2,700 women and 1,700 men who get Anal Cancer
- 2,300 women and 9,000 men who get Head & Neck Cancers.
[Note: although HPV is associated with some of head and neck cancers, most of these cancers are related to smoking and heavy drinking.]
Certain populations are at higher risk for some HPV-related health problems. This includes gay and bisexual men, and people with weak immune systems (including those who have HIV/AIDS).
RRP is very rare. It is estimated that less than 2,000 children get RRP every year in the U.S.
Can I Lower My Chances of Getting HPV? Prevent It?
Vaccines can protect males and females against some of the most common types of HPV. These vaccines are given in three shots. It is important to get all three doses to get the best protection. The vaccines are most effective when given before a person’s first sexual contact, when he or she could be exposed to HPV.
A safe and effective HPV vaccine (Gardasil) is available to protect males against the HPV types that cause most (90%) of genital warts. The vaccine is available for boys and men, ages 9 through 26 years. It is given in three shots over six months.
Condoms (if used with every sex act, from start to finish) may lower your chances of passing HPV to a partner or developing HPV-related diseases. But HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom—so condoms may not fully protect against HPV.
Because HPV is so common and usually invisible, the only sure way to prevent it is not to have sexual contact. Even people with only one lifetime sex partner can get HPV, if their partner was infected with HPV.
Girls & Women: Two vaccines (Cervarix and Gardasil) are available to protect females against the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers. One of these vaccines (Gardasil) also protects against most genital warts. Both vaccines are recommended for 11 and 12 year-old girls, and for females 13 through 26 years of age, who did not get any or all of the shots when they were younger. These vaccines can also be given to girls as young as 9 years of age. It is recommended that females get the same vaccine brand for all three doses, whenever possible.
Boys & Men: One available vaccine (Gardasil) protects males against most genital warts. This vaccine is available for boys and men, 9 through 26 years of age. For those who choose to be sexually active, condoms may lower the risk of HPV. To be most effective, they should be used with every sex act, from start to finish. Condoms may also lower the risk of developing HPV-related diseases, such as genital warts and cervical cancer. But HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom – so condoms may not fully protect against HPV.
People can also lower their chances of getting HPV by being in a faithful relationship with one partner; limiting their number of sex partners; and choosing a partner who has had no or few prior sex partners. But even people with only one lifetime sex partner can get HPV. And it may not be possible to determine if a partner who has been sexually active in the past is currently infected. That’s why the only sure way to prevent HPV is to avoid all sexual activity.
How Can I Prevent HPV-Related Diseases?
There are ways to prevent the possible health effects of HPV, including the two most common problems: genital warts and cervical cancer.
- Prevention of Genital Warts – A vaccine (Gardasil) is available to protect against most genital warts in males and females.
- Prevention of Cervical Cancer – There are two vaccines (Cervarix and Gardasil) that can protect women against most cervical cancers (see above). Cervical cancer can also be prevented with routine cervical cancer screening and follow-up of abnormal results. The Pap test can find abnormal cells on the cervix so that they can be removed before cancer develops. An HPV DNA test, which can find HPV on a woman’s cervix, may also be used with a Pap test in certain cases. Even women who got the vaccine when they were younger need regular cervical cancer screening because the vaccine does not protect against all cervical cancers.
- Prevention of Anal or Penile Cancer – There is no approved screening test to find early signs of penile or anal cancer. Some experts recommend yearly anal Pap tests to screen for anal cancer in gay and bisexual men and in HIV-positive persons. This is because anal cancer is more common in those populations. These tests are not routinely recommended for anal cancer screening because more information is still needed to find out if they are effective.
- Prevention of Head and Neck Cancer – There is no approved test to find early signs of head and neck cancer, but tests are available by specialized doctors for persons with possible symptoms of these cancers.
- Prevention of RRB – Cesarean delivery is not recommended for women with genital warts to prevent RRP in their babies. This is because it is not clear that cesarean delivery prevents RRP in infants and children.
I Found Out That My Partner Has HPV …What Does It Mean For My Health?
Partners usually share HPV. If you have been with your partner for a long time, you probably may have/had HPV already. Most sexually active adults will have HPV at some time in their lives. Men with healthy immune systems rarely develop health problems from HPV.
Condoms may lower your chances of getting HPV or developing HPV-related diseases, if used with every sex act, from start to finish. You may want to consider talking to your doctor about being vaccinated against HPV if you are 26 years or younger.
But not having sex is the only sure way to avoid HPV.
If your partner has genital warts, you should avoid having sex until the warts are gone or removed. You should check for any abnormalities on your penis, such as genital warts.
Also, you should get checked by a health care provider for genital warts and other sexually transmitted disease or infections (STD’s & STI’s).
What Does HPV Mean Regarding My Relationship? A person can have HPV for many years before it is found or causes health problems. So there is no way to know if your partner gave you HPV, or if you gave HPV to your partner. HPV should not be seen as a sign that you or your partner is having sex outside of your relationship.
Having genital warts may be hard to cope with, but they are not a threat to your health. People with genital warts can still lead normal, healthy lives.
How Can I Prevent Genital Warts & Protect My Partner?
There are ways to protect your partner. Because genital warts may be easily passed on to sex partners, you should inform them about having genital warts and avoid sexual activity until the warts are gone or removed.
- You and your partner may benefit from getting screened for other STDs.
It is not clear if there is any health benefit to informing your (future) sex partners about a past diagnosis of genital warts. This is because it is not known how long a person remains contagious after warts are gone.
- HPV is the virus that causes common warts and genital warts. The virus infects the top layers of your skin. Many people infected with HPV have no symptoms and no warts, but they are still contagious.
- Genital Warts are transmitted by skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal, or (rarely) oral sex with someone who is infected.
- Genital warts can be treated, and probably cured in some cases. A “cure” means that the virus is gone. There is no reliable way to determine whether or not the HPV virus is gone.
- Treatments are effective at getting rid of the visible warts, but the virus may persist in the skin, and cause new warts to develop months or years later.
- If you or your sexual partner has warts that are visible in the genital area, you should avoid any sexual contact until the warts are treated.
- Condoms may reduce the risk of spread.
- Be aware that people with no visible warts may be infected with the HPV virus (they may not even be aware themselves that they have it) and spread it to you.
Is There a Test for HPV? The HPV tests on the market are only used to help screen for cervical cancer. There is no general test for men or women to check one’s overall “HPV status,” nor is there an HPV test to find HPV on the genitals or in the mouth or throat. But HPV usually goes away on its own, without causing health problems. So an HPV infection that is found today will most likely not be there a year or two from now.
Is There Treatment for HPV or Related Diseases? There is no treatment for the virus itself, but there are treatments for the diseases that HPV can cause: Visible genital warts can be removed by the patient him or herself with medications. They can also be treated by a health care provider. Some people choose not to treat warts, but to see if they disappear on their own. No one treatment is better than another.
Cervical cancer is most treatable when it is diagnosed and treated early. But women who get routine Pap tests and follow up as needed can identify problems before cancer develops. Prevention is always better than treatment.
Other HPV-related cancers are also more treatable when diagnosed and treated early.
RRP can be treated with surgery or medicines. It can sometimes take many treatments or surgeries over a period of years.
I Heard About a New HPV Vaccine –Will It Help?
The HPV vaccine (Gardasil) works by preventing four common HPV types, two that cause genital warts and two that cause some cancers. It protects against new HPV infections; it does not cure existing HPV infections or disease (like genital warts). It is most effective when given before first sexual contact (i.e., before he may be exposed to HPV).
- Males who have not yet had sex will benefit most from the vaccine, since they are unlikely to have been infected with HPV.
- Young sexually active men may also benefit from the vaccine, but they will get less benefit from it if they have already been infected with HPV.
- Young men who have sex with men might benefit more from this vaccine, especially if they have had few or no partners prior to vaccination, since they are more likely to develop HPV-related diseases than other men.
- The HPV vaccine is very safe and effective, with no serious side effects. The most common side effect is soreness in the arm.
- Available data show that the vaccine can protect men against genital warts. It is possible that this vaccine also protects men from HPV-related cancers, like anal and penile cancers. Studies are being completed to evaluate this.
Why Do I Need To See Doctor Lawrence Jaeger?
There are no effective treatments for genital warts available without prescription, including those advertised on the internet. Do not try to treat genital warts with over-the-counter medications, which aren’t intended for use in the genital area. Doing so can cause even more pain and irritation.
In addition, you must visit a physician to be examined and tested for other sexually transmitted diseases.
There is no reason to be embarrassed about this very common medical condition, however we respect your concerns. You will be treated with sensitivity and respect for your privacy by our expert medical Providers. No one else, including the staff, will learn about your condition. Women may request a female nurse to be present in the room during treatment, and men (or women) may request no one to be present other than the doctor.Some types of HPV can cause cervical cancer. Other types are associated with anal cancer, and cancer of the penis (a rare cancer).
Please do not allow fear of delaying your treatment, because everything is easier to treat when caught early.
How Will Central Park Medical Associates Treat Me?
- Cryotherapy – warts are destroyed with a very cold spray
- Podophyllin – a liquid that can only be applied by a physician
- Laser, Electrocautery and Surgical Excision are other methods
- Prescription Therapy: Condylox and Aldara are prescription medicines which can also be used at home