Genital HPV: Diagnosis and Treatment
Genital HPV is often detected during a routine exam. Your health care provider may ask if you are sexually active, and if you have had dysplasia or genital warts before. You may also be checked for signs of other sexually transmitted infections. Genital HPV can't be cured, but its effects can be treated.
- A Pap test can show signs of dysplasia or warts on the cervix. A sample of cells is taken from the cervix and viewed under a microscope.
- A colposcopy may be done to see dysplasia or warts more clearly. A magnifying scope (colposcope) is used to look at the cervix through the vagina.
- An acetowhite test makes warts easier to see. Vinegar is applied to the cervix or other skin that may be affected. If warts are present, they turn white. This test may be done during a colposcopy.
- A DNA test can find out which strain of HPV you have. Abnormal cells are studied to see if you are at higher risk of cancer. This may affect your treatment plan.
If you have genital warts
The strains of HPV that cause warts are often not the same strains that lead to cancer. If you have genital warts, show them to your health care provider. Be aware that genital warts:
- Can appear alone or in groups, and may be hard to see.
- May feel like dry, firm bumps and look like a rash.
- May look different on skin than on mucous membrane. Warts on a woman may look different from warts on a man.
There is no cure for genital HPV. However, the effects of HPV can be treated. Treating dysplasia removes the cells that can lead to cancer. Treating warts may help keep you from spreading the virus to others.
Types of treatment
- Dysplasia or warts can be removed with heat (cautery), freezing, or laser. The procedure is done by your health care provider. The number of treatments you need depends on how much tissue must be removed.
- Medications can be applied to treat external warts. Some medications prompt your immune system to rally against HPV. Others are caustic agents that destroy warts. Medications may be applied at the health care provider's office or at home.
- Other treatments are being developed as more is learned about HPV. An HPV vaccine is available. Talk to your health care provider about whether this vaccine is right for you.
Ways to stay healthy
Although some strains of HPV are linked to cervical cancer, most people with HPV don't develop cancer. Following up with your health care provider and keeping your immune system healthy help reduce the cancer risk even more. Also, ask your health care provider about receiving the HPV vaccine.
- Schedule follow-up visits as instructed. See your health care provider if you notice any new warts.
- Have Pap tests as often as your health care provider tells you to. This way any dysplasia is found early, when treatment works best.
Keep your immune system strong
- Eat nutritious foods. Eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day helps lower your risk of many types of cancer. Research shows that folic acid (found in whole grains, beans, and broccoli) may help prevent cervical cancer.
- Don't smoke. Smoking weakens the immune system, which makes you more susceptible to HPV. Smoking also increases the risk of cervical and other types of cancer.
- Get plenty of sleep each night. When you're well rested, your immune system is better equipped to fight viruses such as HPV.
To protect against HPV
If you have sex, the best way to prevent the spread of HPV is to use a latex condom every time. But remember that condoms and other barriers only protect the skin they cover. If you're with someone new, talk about HPV and other sexually transmitted diseases before you have sex. If you're in a committed relationship and aren't currently using condoms, you may not need to change your habits. Talk to your partner and make a choice that feels right to both of you.
A vaccine can help prevent HPV in young men and women. Ask your health care provider whether this vaccine may be right for you.