Human Papillomavirus is one of the most common STIs in the world. There are several types of HPV, however not all lead to serious consequences. But the ones which do are known to cause cancers of cervix, anus and throat. In fact 80% of cervical cancer cases which kill more than 67,000 women in India annually are caused by HPV.
Lesser known cancer caused by HPV is the anal cancer which disproportionately affects men who have sex with men, especially those infected with HIV. However, HPV is preventable using a vaccine.
HPV and MSM
Cancer Network estimates that 93% of HIV-positive gay and bisexual men have anal HPV infections, compared with 50% or less of heterosexual men.
How is HPV spread?
HPV is spread through genital skin to skin contact during vaginal or anal sex. Oral sex is also known to spread HPV, though not as prominently.
What are the symptoms of HPV?
Some low risk HPV may result in genital warts. However, HPV, especially high risk HPV does not show any symptoms. The only time you will know about it is when you have developed serious complications like cancer.
What can HPV lead to?
Milder form of HPV can lead to formation of warts on your genitals.
However, HPV is now widely accepted as the leading cause of cervical cancer in women. It can also lead to anal and oral cancer
How can HPV be diagnosed?
While there is no exclusive test for diagnosis of HPV in body, in women it can be detected using Pap Test which can detect any abnormalities indicating cancer. Currently there are no approved tests for men for HPV.
HPV may also be detected by physical examination of warts by the doctor.
Who is at risk of HPV?
Anyone who is sexually active, even though they may have a single sexual partner is at a risk of HPV. This is because HPV often shows no signs of infection even when it’s present in the partner’s body.
How can I prevent HPV?
Luckily, HPV is a highly preventable disease.
One can get vaccinated for HPV. You can know about HPV vaccination in India here.
It is recommended that everyone should get vaccinated before they reach the sexually active age.
Use of condoms can also lower the chance acquiring HPV, but does not eliminate it.
Apart from that it is also suggested that women between the ages of 21 and 65 should get screened for cervical cancer every three years.
How are HPV related infections treated?
HPV is not a curable STI. However HPV related infections can be treated. HPV related warts may be treated with medication based on doctor’s prescription.
For cancer, one may get treated based on medical advice.