Early Stages of HPV in Women

HPV or Human Papilloma virus is a common virus that affects people globally. Early stages of HPV in women are rarely diagnosed and hence left untreated. To date, around 100 types of HPV have been detected that can affect various parts of a body. There are around 30 types of HPV viruses that affect the genitals, including the cervix, vagina, scrotum, penis, rectum, anus and vulva. Among these 30, 13 types of viruses are considered to lead to cervical cancer, hence are termed "high risk". Around 80% of sexually active individuals, including women and men, can get infected with the virus at some stage in their lives.

What Does Early Stages of HPV in Women Look Like?

Our body's immune system is strong enough to defeat an HPV infection before it can start to produce symptoms on the body. However, when warts or cervical cancer begin to appear, they can have different appearances depending on the variety or degree of HPV involved. Following are what women will go through with HPV infection:

Warts

  • Genital Warts can look like small cauliflower-type bumps and may have an appearance of flat lesions. Genital warts, in women, most commonly appear on the vulva, but can also occur in the vagina, near the anus or on the cervix.
  • Common Warts usually appear on fingers, hands or elbows and have an appearance of raised bumps with a rough surface. Common warts most commonly are only a nuisance due to their appearance. But in some cases they can be susceptible to injury or even become painful.
  • Plantar Warts usually appear on the balls or heels of the feet. They have a grainy, hard texture and can be painful or uncomfortable.
  • Flat Warts are usually darker than your skin colour with a flat top. These slightly raised lesions usually appear on the neck, face or other areas that are scratched. Flat warts caused by HPV infections usually affect young adults, adolescents and even children.

Cervical Cancer

HPV infection can lead to cervical cancer, so detecting early stages of HPV in women can greatly help in reducing the chances of cervical cancer. Unfortunately, there are no signs or warnings that can help detect cervical cancer at earlier stages. But that does not mean that cervical cancer cannot be detected earlier.

Many patients at stage 1 or stage 2 of cervical cancer have no symptoms, so it is very important for women to get themselves examined from time to time to prevent or cure cervical cancer before it gets a chance to grow. The most effective way to prevent cervical cancer is the Pap smear during your regular visits to your gynaecologist or practitioner. The goal behind Pap smear is to locate cervical dysplasia, a pre-cancerous lesion that in time will progress to an invasive cervical cancer. Women ages 21-29 should have one Pap smear every 3 years. And women ages 30-65 should continue this routine check but can also do it every 5 years if in the meantime they also do the HPV DNA test.

How Is HPV Transmitted?

In order to prevent or detect early stages of HPV in women, we need to understand its transmission. The infection occurs when the virus enters the body via a small tear, cut or abrasion in the skin's outer layer. Its transmission too is through skin-to-skin contact.

So HPV infections in the genitals can be transmitted through sexual intercourse, anal sex or other skin-to-skin contact in the region. Some HPV infections can cause upper respiratory or oral lesions, and are contracted through oral sex.

A mother can also transmit the HPV infection to her baby during delivery. Infants who get the infection from their mothers are usually affected in the upper respiratory system or the genitals.

What Increases Your Risk

Following are a few factors that can increase your chances:

  • Multiple sexual partners or having sex with someone who has or ever had multiple sex partners can increase the chances of contracting genital HPV infection.
  • Risks are also associated with age: children are more likely to get common warts while plantar warts usually occur in adults. Young adults and adolescents are more likely to be infected with genital warts.
  • Individuals with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk.
  • Exposure of skin due to damage or puncture can increase the chances of developing common warts.
  • Being exposed to or coming in contact with skin or surfaces infected with HPV, like swimming pools or public showers, also increases the risk.

How to Treat HPV Infection

HPV infections usually go away on their own. The body's immune system clears away the infection in 70% to 90% of the cases. Considering there is no cure for the infection, the doctors monitor the infected area closely for any cell changes. Hence it is important to visit your practitioner for regular screenings.

Only some HPV infected women develop cellular changes that require treatment. When treatment is required, the goal is to remove any abnormal cells and visible warts in the cervix. Here are ways not only can treat early stages of HPV in women, but also help in dealing with HPV infection that has progressed. 

1. Medications

Wart removing medications are applied to the lesion directly. Some medications include:

  • Salicylic Acid: Medications with salicylic acid are used for common warts and are available over-the-counter.
  • Imiquimod: It is a prescription cream that enhances the immune system's ability to combat HPV.
  • Podofilox: It is a topical prescription used to destroy genital wart issue.
  • Trichloroacetic Acid: It is a chemical treatment used to burn off genital warts.

Check for possible side effects before purchasing any medicine.

2. Medical Procedures

Following are some treatments that might be used to treat HPV infections in women:

  • Cryosurgery: Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze off the warts.
  • LEEP or Loop electrosurgical excision procedure: A special wire loop is used to remove abnormal cells.
  • Electrocautery: An electrical current is used to burn off the warts.
  • Laser Therapy: An intense light is used to destroy abnormal cells and warts.
  • Prescription Cream: Medicated cream is applied directly to the warts.

3. Preventive Methods

These are the most ideal ways of handling early stages of HPV in women:

  • Using condoms is an effective preventive method. However, a condom does not cover the entire genital area and so it isn't 100% effective.
  • Individuals affected with genital warts should avoid intercourse until the condition is treated in order to prevent transmission of HPV.
  • Gardasil is the first approved HPV vaccine for females aged between 9 and 26. The vaccine provides protection against cervical cancer.
 
 
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