Thursday, March 20, 2008

Genital HPV: Are you Aware?

By: Lisa Malinowski, ARNP - UCF Health Center Women's Clinic Provider

HPV (Human Papillomavirus) infections are common. At least 50% of sexually active people will have genital HPV some time in their lives. Right now it is estimated that close to 25 million people in the United States have HPV infections that cause genital warts and other lesions. Some strands of HPV infection can cause cancer of the cervix. Other HPV strands may cause cancers of the genitals and anus. However, not all infections with these dangerous types of HPV lead to cancer.

Most HPV infections go undetected because they don’t cause warts or other lesions. Even if you don’t exhibit signs and symptoms of the infection, they may emerge later and you may transmit the virus to someone else. The signs and symptoms that do appear vary according to the type of the HPV infection you may have. HPV infections associated with genital warts and related lesions are contracted through sexual intercourse, anal sex and other skin-to-skin contact in the genital regions.

Virtually all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV infections. An estimated 10,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer annually, and about 4,000 die of the disease each year. Worldwide, cervical cancer is far more common because many women lack access to pap test screening. Certain HPV infections usually caused by type 16 and 18 can cause cellular changes that indicate the presence of precancerous lesions. These abnormalities are most often detected by a pap test. A pap test is the best tool to detect an HPV infection that could lead to cervical cancer. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that women begin annual pap tests 3 years after first having sexual intercourse or at age 21. There is no test for men at this point but research is being conducted.

Genital warts are nonmalignant and appear as a flat lesion and/or a tiny cauliflower-like bump. HPV infections of type 6 and 11 cause 90% of genital wart cases. These HPV types are generally not associated with cancer. In women these warts appear most commonly on the vulva but may also occur near the anus, on the cervix or in the vagina. In men these may appear on the penis and the scrotum or around the anus. Genital warts rarely cause discomfort or pain.
There are ways to reduce your risk of being exposed to HPV: limit the number of sexual partners you have as the greater the number of sexual partners the more likely you will obtain HPV; be in a monogamous relationship; always using a condom, which can prevent some but not all HPV transmission.

Another preventative measure is the Gardasil Vaccine which is available to you at the UCF Health Center. This vaccine prevents HPV infections of type 6, 11, 16 and 18. Ideally women should receive this vaccine before they become sexually active. However if you are already sexually active this vaccine can still benefit you. The vaccine prevents women only from contracting HPV infections or types that they have not yet been exposed to. This vaccine is a powerful tool in the fight against cervical cancer. More information about Gardasil can be found at For more information on genital HPV you can visit

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