80% of women will have HPV in their lives. But what is HPV? Is it curable? How do you know if you have it? And how do you prevent getting it? Marie Claire asked gynaecologist and endoscopic surgeon Dr. Natalia Novikova the important questions about the virus that affects so many women.
What is HPV?
HPV stands for Human Papilloma Virus. There are more than 170 different types of HPV and about 40 different types can infect both women and men.
These are the important facts about HPV:
- HPV is a sexually transmitted infection. It can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, vaginal, anal and oral sex. HPV is very common and the majority of sexually active people get exposed to it.
- HPV can cause warts, cancer of cervix and less commonly, cancer of vulva, vagina, penis, anus, oropharynx (mouth and throat).
- Getting a pap smear helps to pick-up pre-cancerous cells before they develop into cancer and treat it. A pap smear is a special test where the cells from the cervix are checked for pre-cancerous changes.
- There are two vaccines currently available to prevent HPV infection and cancer of the cervix. The vaccine is given to girls between the age of 9 and 26. Girls and women should have a vaccine before they become sexually active. Boys can also get vaccine and it will provide protection against anal, mouth and throat cancers as well as will assist with stopping the transmission of HPV to their sexual partners. The vaccine consists of three injections given two months apart. All girls attending government school are vaccinated within a programme run by the Department of Health.
Who gets HPV?
Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV. People who smoke or have suppressed immune system because of chronic illnesses, certain medications (ask your gynae about the exact medications) are more likely to develop pre-cancerous lesions and cancer related to HPV.
Do condoms protect against HPV?
Unfortunately, condoms do not provide as good protection as against other sexually transmitted infections (such as chlamydia and HIV) because HPV can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact.
How to treat HPV
Pre-cancerous lesions caused by HPV virus are treated with a small surgical procedure called LLETZ or LEEP. The abnormal cells are cut out by a hot loop. Abnormal cells can be also destroyed with laser or cryotherapy (freezing). LLETZ procedure is most commonly used and it’s simple and safe.
For more information or to ask any questions, contact Dr. Natalia Novikova or speak to your gynaecologist.