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Human Papillomavirus: Is it Curable?

written by: Rosanna • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 6/15/2010

What is HPV? Is it curable, and how do I get it? These are all frequently asked questions regarding the human papillomavirus. Learn the facts about this STD.

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    HPV is the short term for human papillomavius. HPV, the most common of the sexually transmitted viruses, affects both women and men. The virus is spread through sexual contact. Vaginal intercourse is not the only way to transmit HPV, it is also transmitted via anal sex, oral sex and genital to genital touching. HPV is known to cause genital warts.

    HPV is transmitted through both straight and gay sexual contact and can be transmitted by an infected partner even when there are no symptoms or signs of infection.

    Because HPV can be present without any symptoms, it is important that people who have had unprotected sex in the past get tested. Without testing, you may be unaware you are carrying HPV, and might continue to transmit to the virus to others.

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    Signs of HPV

    HPV harbors in the mucous membranes. Genital warts are a common sign of having HPV. The warts can be raised, small, large or pink and you may have a single wart or multiple genital warts. The warts can appear in various areas: anus, penis, groin, upper legs, cervix, vagina or the scrotum.

    You may see genital warts appear weeks, months or years following exposure to HPV.

    If you have any question on whether you may have contracted HPV, you should see a doctor right away. Certain types of HPV are linked to cancer.

    Some types of genital HPV infection are associated with cancer, including cervical cancer and cancer of the vulva, anus, or penis. If infection occurs with one of these virus types, precancerous changes can occur in cells in the tissue without causing any symptoms.

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    Is HPV Curable?

    HPV is not curable. There are treatments that can be offered for genital warts and treatment for any cervical lesions or resulting cancers but there is nothing that can be done to stop or cure HPV. This is particularly important for women, as HPV types 16 and 18 are known to be responsible for 70% of all cervical cancers. If you are a woman with either of these types of HPV, your doctor will recommend regular pap smears and other testing as determined by your physician.

    Seeing a doctor is still very important so you can determine the type of HPV virus you have, and if it is known to be associated with cancer. It is also important so that your doctor can educate you properly on avoiding transmission of the virus to sexual partners. While HPV is not curable, most people's immune system will fight and clear the virus. However, tests ordered by your doctor are the only way to determine what HPV type you may have, and whether the virus is still active within your body.

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    How Do I Avoid Getting HPV?

    Because HPV can be spread by even genital to genital touching, the only way to guarantee you will not get HPV is to avoid any type of sexual contact. Using a condom can minimize transmission of HPV but it cannot prevent transmission entirely, since HPV can be spread via genital sexual contact even when it does not include intercourse.

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    References

    Center for Disease Control: What is HPV? - http://www.cdc.gov/hpv/WhatIsHPV.html

    FDA: HPV - http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ByAudience/ForWomen/FreePublications/ucm118530.htm

    WebMD: HPV Symptoms and Tests - http://www.webmd.com/sexual-conditions/hpv-genital-warts/hpv-symptoms-tests