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Human Papillomavirus (HPV) / Genital Warts

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Three out of four sexually active women will get HPV at some point in their lives.

Some types of HPV can cause cervical cancer or genital warts, but these types are protected against by the HPV vaccine.

Every year in BC approximately:

  • 200 women will get cervical cancer
  • 50 women will die from the disease
  • 6 000 women will develop high risk pre-cancerous changes to the cervix
  • 10 000 invasive procedures will be done to stop cancer of the cervix from developing
Human papillomavirus is a family of over 100 types of viruses that can infect the penis, vulva (area outside the vagina), or anus, and the linings of the vagina, cervix, or rectum.

Certain "low risk" types (for example, types 6 and 11) may cause warts in the genital area.

At least 15 high-risk types of HPV (for example, types 16 and 18) can cause pre-cancerous changes and cancer in the cervix, anus and other genital area
When someone becomes infected with HPV there are no signs and symptoms. People don’t know they are infected. 

In 9 out of 10 females the infection clears up by itself.
HPV is usually spread through sexual intercourse. 

However, the HPV virus can be passed on orally and by skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity – intercourse isn’t necessary.

The HPV virus is very common and very easily spread from one person to another.

  • Most females get an HPV infection of the cervix within 2 to 5 years of starting sexual activity.
In some females the virus doesn’t go away on its own but persists and causes changes in the cervix that are pre-cancerous and may progress to cancer if not treated.

Every year in BC up to 150 women develop cancer of the cervix caused by HPV and 40 women die from the disease.
All sexually active females should get yearly Pap tests to find early signs of abnormalities and pre-cancerous changes to the cervix. This can be treated successfully at this stage because the progression to cancer takes many years.

There is a test that can detect high-risk HPV strains in DNA (genetic material) from the body’s cells. However, it is not widely available. The test is usually only used in rare circumstances, either when a physician recommends it or when a woman has abnormal results on her Pap test. Many parts of Canada do not have the test.
There are no treatments or drugs that can kill or get rid of the HPV virus. 

There are several treatments that can be done for genital and anal warts. On average it takes about 8 months to get rid of the warts. Genital and anal warts can sometimes come back.

If a Pap test shows pre-cancerous changes to the cervix, the treatment will depend on the stage of development of the changes at the time of diagnosis. 

Pre-cancerous lesions can usually be treated successfully. Options at this stage can include:

  • Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) which involves the removal of tissue using a wire loop
  • Other treatments include laser therapy or cryotherapy
Vaccination is 100% effective in preventing the effects of four kinds of HPV infection. These four types of HPV can cause:
  • cancer of the cervix, vulva and vagina (types 16 and 18), as well as
  • genital and anal warts (types 6 and 11)
These four types of HPV cause:
  • 7 out of 10 cases of cervical cancers
  • 9 out of 10 cases of genital warts
  • Other diseases such as cancer of the vagina and the vulva
The risk of infection increases with the number of sexual partners and having unprotected sex. 

Using a condom protects against HPV infections. However, condoms cannot cover all the skin surfaces around the genitals and the anus, and therefore does not guarantee complete protection against HPV.
SOURCE: Human Papillomavirus (HPV) / Genital Warts ( )
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