Philadelphia Treatment Guide
What It Is
Genital human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the U.S. and affects men and women equally. There are more than 100 types of HPV, 40 of which infect the genital area, including the scrotum and skin of the penis, the lining of the vagina, the cervix and vulva, and the anus and rectum. Having multiple sexual partners, having a sexual partner who has had multiple sexual partners, and/or having sexual relations prior to age 18 increases your risk of acquiring HPV.
HPV may cause genital warts or papillomas, which are benign tumors, and there are low-risk and high-risk strains of HPV. Low-risk HPVs cause genital warts while high-risk HPVs can cause cervical cancer, as well as less common cancers of the vulva, vagina, anus, and penis. Though HPV is the cause of nearly all types of cervical cancers, unless the virus produces genital warts, it cannot be seen — which is why many people are unaware that they’re infected.
The majority of genital HPV cases are asymptomatic. Genital warts are one of the only visible indicators of infection. Cell abnormalities may also be detected through a pap smear.
Genital warts can be single or multiple growths, raised or flat, small or large. They often form a cauliflower-like shape. They can itch or bleed and interfere with bowel movements, urination, and sexual intimacy.
Recently approved by the FDA for females ages 9 to 26, this vaccine protects against four types of HPV—the strains that cause 70 percent of cervical cancer and 90 percent of genital warts. Studies are underway to determine whether the HPV vaccine can be given to men.
Genital Wart Removal
Genital warts can be removed surgically through a simple excision, with an electric needle or a laser, as well as with cryosurgery (freezing with liquid nitrogen).
Non-surgical options include burning the warts off with acid applications like bichloroacetic acid or trichloroacetic acid and interferon injections, which stimulate a response from the body’s immune system. These options will involve multiple treatments and numerous doctor visits.
Prescription medications are also available, such as podofilox gel and imiquimod cream. Imiquimod (Aldara) boosts your immune system's ability to fight genital warts, and podofilox (Condylox) destroys genital wart tissue. Over-the-counter medications are not recommended.
Cell abnormalities within the cervix can be treated with cryotherapy (freezing the cells with liquid nitrogen), conization (a cone biopsy that removes abnormal areas), and Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure or LEEP (where abnormal cells are removed with an electrical current).
Living With Genital HPV
Being diagnosed with HPV will alter your sex life, but it doesn’t have to end it. Talk to your partner about HPV and the steps you are taking to treat it and prevent transmission. If your partner is willing to engage in sexual activity, use condoms to reduce the risk of transmission. If he or she is wary, develop your relationship in ways that extend beyond sex. There are other ways to be intimate. Furthermore, women should continue to have pap smears to monitor cervical cell changes, and both men and women should continue to have regular check ups. Maintaining a strong immune system will help you fight the virus and reduce outbreaks, so eating healthy, exercising, and refraining from smoking and alcohol abuse may help stem the infection.