What are HPV and Genital Warts?
HPV (which stands for Human Papilloma Virus) is the most common type of viral STI in the UK. It is a sexually transmitted virus which can cause genital warts and certain types of cancer, most commonly Cervical Cancer. The virus can cause changes to the cells in a woman's cervix and is the single biggest cause of cervical cancer in women. In addition to cervical cancer, HPV is also linked to vulval, anal, throat and other types of cancer and can affect both men and women.
Many types of the virus exist and some can cause genital warts. Genital Warts may be either flat or bumpy, resembling raspberries or cauliflowers in appearance. The warts begin as small red or pink growths and can grow as large as four inches across, interfering with intercourse and childbirth. Growths may also be hidden or invisible, so regular HPV testing is recommended.
Better2Know offers a course of vaccines which can prevent infection from specified virus types.
Did you know? …
HPV are a group of over 100 viruses, some of which can be sexually transmitted and cause Gential Warts, Cervical Cancer and other cancers. Click here to see the full article.
How can I get the virus?
HPV is highly infectious and can be transmitted through sexual contact and through oral, anal, or vaginal sexual intercourse. It is possible for you to catch it even if you or your partner is wearing a condom. It is almost impossible to know if your partner is carrying the virus as often the infected person will have no symptoms. Genital Warts do not have to be present on the carrier for their partner to become infected with the virus as it can also be caught from touching the skin of the infected person as well as through sexual fluids.
How do I know if I have it?
It is difficult to tell whether you have the virus because many types of HPV cause no symptoms. Some types cause Genital Warts, which may look like small pink spots, raised bumps or cauliflower shaped warts. In men, these warts tend to form on the shaft, head or base of the penis. In women, these warts may form in or around the vagina or the labia or "lips".
The more serious types of HPV (High Risk HPV) are the ones which cause cancers and are typically invisible. Therefore, the only way to find out if you have any of the types is to get tested. For women, it is extremely important to get tested regularly through cervical smears given the risks of developing cervical cancer. For men that have anal sex, having regular anal swabs is equally important.
Better2Know offers a comprehensive suite of tests for women and men. For women, we offer a full examination of your HPV status and cervical health.
For women, the following testing options are available:
- Better2Know combined PAP smear and HPV test - Recommended for women who are concerned about their HPV status and cervical health, this combined test will look for any changes to the cells of your cervix as well as test you for 20 types of the virus.
- Better2Know HPV test - Obtains a sample from an appropriate site that is tested using a PCR method to detect up to 20 High Risk and Low Risk viral types. It should be noted that this test may disrupt the cells of the cervix rendering them unsuitable to PAP testing for a period of time.
For men, Better2Know offers swab tests. Your Better2Know Doctor will determine the appropriate site (visible wart, urethra, or anus) for sampling.
Results are available five days from when the sample is received in the laboratory.
There is no cure for the virus. In other words, once you contract the virus it cannot be removed with medicine although in many people their body gets rid of the virus naturally over time. However, the symptoms of Genital Warts can be treated. If you have visible warts, these can typically be removed with lasers, creams, surgery or can be frozen off (cryotherapy).
You can choose to be vaccinated against some high risk types of HPV. With vaccination, you can protect yourself against types 6 and 11 (which cause 90% of Genital Warts) and types 16 and 18 (which cause 70% of cervical cancers). See our vaccines page for more details.
Genital warts may enlarge during pregnancy due to hormones. If the warts become large enough they could become an obstacle to delivery, requiring a caesarean section. In some instances warts are passed from mother to child during childbirth, leading to a potentially life-threatening condition for newborns in which warts develop in the throat (Laryngeal Papillomatosis).
Persistent HPV infections are now recognized as the major cause of cervical cancer and may play a role in some cancers of the anus, vulva, vagina, and penis. Studies have also found that oral HPV infection is a strong risk factor for oropharyngeal cancer (cancer that forms in tissues of the oropharynx, which is the middle part of the throat and includes the soft palate, the base of the tongue and the tonsils).