Genital Warts (HPV) in Women
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
- Genital warts definition and facts
- What causes genital warts (HPV infection)?
- How common is HPV infection?
- What are the signs and symptoms of genital warts?
- Is there a vaccine to prevent genital warts and HPV infection
- Will birth control protect me from getting genital warts or HPV infection?
- Is there a test to diagnose genital warts?
- Is there a DNA test for types of HPV infection?
- Is there a treatment that will cure genital warts (HPV infection)?
- What if a woman has precancerous changes (dysplasia) of the cervix?
- What should a person do if exposed to someone with genital warts?
- Find a local Obstetrician-Gynecologist in your town
Genital warts definition and facts
- Genital warts are caused by infection with a subgroup of the human papillomaviruses (HPVs).
- Another subgroup of the HPVs that infect the anogenital tract can lead to precancerous changes in the uterine cervix and cause cervical cancer.
- HPV infection is now considered to be the most common sexually-transmitted infection (sexually transmitted disease, STD) in the U.S., and it is believed that at least 75% of the reproductive-age population has been infected with sexually-transmitted HPV at some point in life.
- HPV infection is common and does not usually lead to the development of warts, cancers, or even symptoms.
- HPV infection of the genital tract is transmitted through sexual contact, although non-sexual transmission is also possible.
- In many cases genital warts do not cause any symptoms, but they are sometimes associated with itching, burning, or tenderness.
- Condom use seems to decrease the risk of transmission of HPV during sexual activity but does not completely prevent HPV infection.
- There are no natural or home remedies to treat or cure genital warts (HPV) infection.
What causes genital warts (HPV infection)?
There are over 100 types of human papillomaviruses (HPVs) that infect humans. Of these, more than 40 types can infect the genital tract and anus (anogenital tract) of men and women. Sometimes, they cause genital lesions known as condylomata acuminata or venereal warts. A subgroup of the HPVs that infect the anogenital tract can lead to precancerous changes in the uterine cervix and cervical cancer. HPV infection is also associated with the development of other anogenital cancers. The HPV types that cause cervical cancer have also been linked with both anal and penile cancer in men as well as a subgroup of head and neck cancers in both women and men. Genital warts and HPV infection are transmitted primarily by sexual intimacy, and the risk of infection increases as the number of sexual partner's increases.
The most common HPV types that infect the anogenital tract are HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18 (HPV-6, HPV-11, HPV-16, and HPV-18), although other HPV types can also cause infection. Among these, HPV-6 and HPV-11 are most commonly associated with benign lesions such as genital warts are termed "low-risk" HPV types. In contrast, HPV-16 and HPV-18 are the types found most commonly in cervical and anogenital cancers as well as severe dysplasia of the cervix. These belong to the so-called "high-risk" group of HPVs.
Other HPV types infect the skin and cause common warts elsewhere on the body. Some types of HPVs (for example, HPV 5 and 8) frequently cause skin cancers in people who have a condition known as epidermodysplasia verruciformis (EV).
How common is HPV infection?
HPV infection is now considered to be the most common sexually-transmitted infection (sexually transmitted disease, STD) in the U.S. It is thought that at least 75% of the reproductive-age population has been infected with sexually-transmitted HPV at some point in life. It is believed that over 6 million people become infected with HPV every year in the US, and approximately 50% of those infected are between the ages of 15 and 25.
HPV infection is common and does not usually lead to the development of warts, cancers, or even symptoms. In fact, the majority of people infected with HPV have no symptoms or lesions at all. Determination of whether or not a person is infected with HPV involves tests that identify the genetic material (DNA) of the virus. Furthermore, it has not been definitely established whether the body's immune system is able to permanently clear the body of an HPV infection. In many cases, a person will test positive for HPV infection and then have negative HPV tests for months to years, only to have a positive test result at a later time. It is presently unclear if this is due to a latent (continuing but hidden) viral infection or if the person has become re-infected with the virus.
Asymptomatic people infected with HPVs (those without HPV-induced warts or lesions) are still able to spread the infections to others through sexual contact.
It is important to note that in the U.S. and other developed countries, screening and early treatment of precancerous changes of the cervix have dramatically reduced the incidence of cervical cancer. In developing countries lacking the medical infrastructure or financial means to implement a screening program, the incidence of cervical cancer resulting from HPV infection is much higher. In fact, cervical cancer develops in around 500,000 women each year worldwide, and, in many countries, it is the most common cause of cancer deaths.
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