Everything About HPV and Testing

HPV and Human Papillomavirus Testing

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) and there are more than 100 strains of the virus. Some strains of HPV go unnoticed and seem to cause no symptoms at all, while others can cause genital warts or various cancers.

HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active individuals (both men and women) will get a strain of the virus at some point in their lives. According to the CDC, approximately 79 million people in the United States have HPV, and an estimated 14 million American contract it each year.

The human papillomavirus is most often transmitted during vaginal or anal sex, but can also be contracted during oral sex.

Typically, HPV clears or goes away on its own, but when it doesn’t go away it can cause genital warts or certain cancers. HPV strains that cause genital warts are not the same strains that cause cancer.

HPV and Genital Warts 
Genital warts are small bumps or clusters of small bumps that appear in the genital region. They can appear as just one or many across the area. Genital warts can vary in size and shape– from round or flat, big or small, or even in the shape of a cauliflower. Nearly 360,000 people in the U.S. get genital warts each year.


HPV and Cancer 

HPV can cause certain cancers, especially cervical cancer in women. The virus can also cause cancer of the vulva and/or vagina in women. In men, HPV can cause cancer of the penis. Both genders can get anal cancer or oropharyngeal cancer that can affect the tongue, tonsils, and pharynx.

Women should get screened for cervical cancer from age 21-65. According to the CDC, nearly 11,000 women get cervical cancer each year.


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There are immunizations available for both sexes for some cancer-causing strains of HPV:

Cervarix is a series of three vaccines that is for females ages 9-25. It is used to prevent HPV strains 16 and 18, which have been linked to cervical cancer. The immunizations are scheduled in a 0, 1 and 6-month pattern: The second vaccine is received one month after the first vaccine, and the final vaccine is received six months after the second vaccine.

Gardasil is an HPV vaccine that is also a series of three immunizations and is for both males and females ages 9-26. This immunization prevents four types of HPV strains: 6, 11, 16 and 18. The immunizations are scheduled in a 0, 2 and 6-month pattern: The second vaccine is received two months after the first vaccine, and the final vaccine is received six months after the second vaccine.

Gardasil is used for the prevention of certain vulvar, cervical and vaginal cancers in females. In males, Gardasil is used to prevent genital warts. In both sexes, Gardasil is given for the prevention of genital warts caused by strain 6 and 11, and the prevention of anal cancers caused by strains 16 and 18.

Cervarix and Gardasil DO NOT provide protection against disease other strains of HPV or strains that an individual has previously been exposed through sexual activity, including the strains vaccinated for. If a dosage is missed from either Cervarix or Gardasil, the vaccination process must start over, so be sure not to miss any vaccines. Also, it is important to finish the entire series in order to prevent the strains of HPV these immunizations include.

Genital warts or abnormal Pap test (also called a pap smear) results are the most common ways people find out that they have HPV. A Pap test is a test done to look for abnormal cells of the cervix and uterus. HPV can change normal cervix cells into abnormal precancerous cells. If left untreated, the precancerous cells can become cancerous cells. Some individuals find out they have HPV after developing an HPV-caused form of cancer.


HPV and Pregnancy

When developed during pregnancy, HPV treatment of the mother is often delayed until after delivery of the baby. HPV can cause genital warts to grow and sometimes genital warts can grow even larger due to pregnancy hormones. If they grow big enough to obstruct the birth canal, the baby may have to be delivered via cesarean section (C-section). In very rare cases, a mother can pass HPV to her baby during childbirth. An extremely small number of these infants develop a condition that causes tumors to grow in the throat called recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP). These tumors are surgically removed but often come back. Mothers with HPV can breastfeed their babies.


Testing Methods For HPV

There currently is no test approved to test for HPV in men, and there is not currently a test for HPV of the throat or mouth.

Nucleic Acid Amplification (NAA)

  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV) High-Risk DNA Detection
  • Detection of high-risk type HPV DNA sequences in female exfoliated cells (swab) or tissue biopsies.
  • The test provides a qualitative molecular detection of 13 different human papillomavirus high-risk types: 16, 18, 31, 33, 35, 39, 45, 51, 52, 56, 58, 59, 68 without differentiation of the individual type.

HPV Treatment

There is no treatment for the human papillomavirus itself, but the conditions and diseases it causes can be treated.

  • Genital warts can be treated by a doctor. If left untreated, genital warts may go away on their own, remain the same, or enlarge in size.
  • Cervical precancer (precancerous cells) can be treated. Treating precancerous cells is easier and more stable than treating cancer itself, this is why routine Pap tests are so important.
  • HPV-caused cancers can be treated in their own ways depending on what type of cancer they are. Cancer types are easier to treat when caught early on.

Key Takeaways 

  • The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) and there are more than 40 strains of the virus.
  • Some strains of HPV go unnoticed and seem to cause no symptoms at all, while others can cause genital warts or various cancers.
  • HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active individuals (both men and women) will get a strain of the virus at some point in their lives.
  • The human papillomavirus is most often transmitted during vaginal or anal sex, but can also be contracted during oral sex.
  • Genital warts are small bumps or clusters of small bumps that appear in the genital region.
  • Typically, HPV clears or goes away on its own, but when it doesn’t it can cause genital warts or certain cancers.
  • There are two immunizations series available to help prevent certain strains of cancer: Cervarix (for females only) and Gardasil (for males and females).
  • Genital warts or abnormal Pap test (Pap smear) results are the most common ways people find out that they have HPV. Some individuals find out after developing an HPV-caused form of cancer.
  • HPV can cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus and/or cancers of the mouth and throat.
  • There currently is no test approved to test for HPV in men, and there is not currently a test for HPV of the throat or mouth.
  • There is no treatment for the human papillomavirus itself, but the conditions and diseases it causes can be treated in their own ways.

Read Section 11 on Trichomoniasis and Trich Testing.

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Medically Reviewed by on October 2, 2018 - Written by STDcheck Editorial Team.

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