Approximately 75% of sexually active Canadians will have at least one HPV infection in their lifetime, with the highest rates of HPV infection occurring in young people aged 15 to 24 () - however HPV can be prevented with vaccination.
Signs & Symptoms of HPV
Many people who get HPV don’t even realize it, as most types of HPV don’t cause any symptoms. This means that people can pass the virus to others without knowing it.
Signs & Symptoms of HPV-related Cancers and Warts
Often, genital warts are the only sign that an individual has HPV. Genital warts can appear days, weeks, months, or years after contact. These growths can appear as small red or white raised bumps on the inside or outside of the sex organs. Genital warts are normally painless but can cause itching or burning. Atypical symptoms from the genital region such as itchiness, discomfort during intercourse, bleeding during intercourse and/or shaving, and cauliflower-like growths should prompt a visit to a doctor.
Various types of Cancers are also related to HPV. Cervical, vulvar, vaginal, penile, anal, and certain head and neck cancers (I.e., throat) can be caused by HPV. Atypical symptoms from these areas, especially bleeding, itchiness, lumps/ulcers, or pain should prompt a visit to the doctor. The signs and symptoms of HPV-related Cancers can also be caused by other health conditions. It is important to discuss these symptoms with your doctor.
Treatment of HPV
HPV cannot be treated. Individuals may have the option to have visible lesions/warts surgically removed, but there is no cure for the virus itself.
Unlike some other STBBIs, HPV is a virus and viruses cannot be treated with antibiotics. Once an individual has HPV, the immune system will most often clear the virus, in most people, within one to two years. However, HPV infections can reoccur in the future. The individual is not immune to the virus.
Treatment of HPV-related Cancers and Warts
A health-care professional may offer the option to remove lesions/genital warts using chemicals, laser surgery or freezing with liquid nitrogen, or by using a cream that boosts the immune system to develop resistance against the HPV virus. Currently, scientists do not know if and for how long HPV persists in the skin.
In the presence of signs and symptoms of various cancers, a health-care professional may need further examination, imaging, and/or biopsies. If cancer is present, treatments will vary. Treatments could include laser surgery, microsurgery, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy.
HPV is very contagious, and it is important that we take every precaution possible to protect ourselves and our partner(s). Whether you are sexually active, have already been infected with HPV, or have never heard of HPV before, there are measures you can take to protect yourself.
An individual can contract the HPV virus through skin-to-skin contact. This means that penetration is not necessary to contract HPV. The most common transmission is by skin-to-skin contact with the penis, scrotum, vagina, vulva, or anus of an infected person. Kissing or touching a partner’s genitals with the mouth can also transmit HPV.
The HPV vaccine is the best way to protect yourself against HPV. The HPV vaccine provides protection from the 9 HPV types that cause about 90% of cervical cancers and the 2 HPV types that cause over 90% of genital warts. In Canada, HPV vaccination is approved for males from ages 9 – 26 and females from ages 9 – 45. Individuals who have had HPV are still eligible for the vaccine.
Here are some other ways to help reduce your risk of contracting HPV:
- Be mindful of your number of sexual partners. The more sexual partners you have, the higher your risk is of contracting HPV.
- Use a condom. Condoms or other barriers such as an oral dam can reduce the risk of HPV infection if put on before skin-to-skin sexual contact.
- Limit/quit smoking. Smoking lowers the immune system and makes it less effective in fighting against HPV infections. It is also a factor in the development of various cancers, as well as genital warts.
- Cervical Cancer screening. The best defense against Cervical Cancer is to have regular Pap Tests and/or HPV Tests. These tests will be able to detect abnormal cells in the cervix that could lead to cancer.
- Health exam. Although HPV and Pap Tests are only available for women, men can be examined by their doctor for genital warts and signs of HPV-related cancers.
Interested in getting an HPV vaccine? Click here to find out how!