Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is the most common
sexually transmitted infection affecting both males and females and is the
cause of nearly all cases of cervical cancer. Unlike other sexually transmitted
infections, most signs and symptoms of HPV are nonexistent; therefore, most are
unaware of their infection.
Of the more than 40 types of HPV, some types may cause
genital warts and a small number may lead to cervical, vulvae, vaginal and anal
cancers in women or anal and penile cancers in men. Various types may also
transmit infection to the mouth and throat, and they have been associated with
an increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
Screening and prevention
Screening for HPV is usually carried out by a Pap smear
or by liquid-based cytology to detect abnormal cells. When abnormal cells are
detected, a colposcopic inspection is recommended. During this procedure,
biopsies are performed and abnormal cells removed via cauterizing loop or, more
commonly, by cryotherapy.
Although there is no current treatment for HPV, the two
HPV vaccines (Cervarix, GlaxoSmithKline and Gardasil, Merck) provide protection
from infection with HPV types 16 and 18 the cause of 70% of cervical
According to the CDC, Condom use may reduce the
risk for genital HPV infection. However, when compared with other
sexually transmitted infections, condom use provides a lesser degree of
protection because HPV can also be transmitted via exposure to infected skin or
mucosal surfaces not protected by condom use.
In most girls, HPV infection is temporary and does not
have a significant long-term effect. Within 1 year, 70% of HPV infections are
cured; 90% are cured within 2 years. Yet, in 5% to 10% of women, HPV infection
persists. These patients are at a significant risk for precancerous lesions of
the cervix, which may lead to invasive cervical cancer within 10 to 15 years.
On rare occasions, mothers with genital HPV can pass on
the virus to their baby during delivery, and the baby may develop recurrent
respiratory papillomatosis. This is a condition in which warts grow on the
throat and is referred to as juvenile-onset recurrent respiratory
papillomatosis in older children.
Connection to other cancers
Data suggest HPV is also linked to lung and throat
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