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HPV Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of HPV

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Updated April 09, 2014

The human papillomavirus (HPV) has been a popular topic in the media since the FDA approval of Gardasil, an HPV vaccine. All of the hype has left many wondering if they could be infected with HPV, as well as how to find out if they are indeed infected, and what HPV symptoms they should watch out for.

Key Points About HPV and HPV Symptoms

There are many strains of HPV. There are over 100 different strains of HPV, and about 30 of these strains affect both male and female genitalia, causing conditions like genital warts and, more seriously, cancer.

But not all strains are associated with cancer. There are high and low risk strains of HPV that affect the body differently:
  • Low Risk Strains: Strains classified as "low risk" are associated with genital warts and mild cervical abnormalities that are found in routine Pap smears. Low risk strains do not cause cervical cancer.

  • High Risk Strains: Strains of HPV classified as "high risk" are associated with both mild and severe cervical abnormalities found on a Pap test. When left untreated for several years, these abnormalities could develop into cervical cancer. Less frequently, high risk strains can cause atypical genital warts that can have precancerous and cancerous changes within them.

Engaging in high risk sexual behavior increases your risk of contracting both high and low risk strains of HPV.

You can be infected with more than one strain of HPV. An infected person can be a carrier of several strains of HPV concurrently. The good news is that for most people, both high and low risk HPV infections clear up without medical intervention.

HPV Symptoms

Symptoms of HPV Strains Related to Genital Warts: The strains of HPV known to cause genital warts in men and women obviously can cause genital warts to appear. These are cauliflower-like growths that can appear on, in and around the genitals and surrounding areas. However, in some cases, genital warts never appear or can appear years after contracting the virus. This is why you cannot rely on the visual presence of genital warts to determine if someone is infected or not.

Symptoms of HPV Strains Related to Cancer: High risk, cancer-causing strains of HPV do not generally produce symptoms. This is why a regular Pap smear is vital for all women. A Pap smear can detect abnormal cervical changes caused by HPV, long before they turn cancerous.

Diagnosing HPV in Women

For women, a regular pelvic exam and Pap smear is the best way to detect an HPV infection. During a pelvic exam, the doctor may examine the vagina for signs of genital warts. If genital warts are discovered, a topical treatment may be given to remove them. Remember, the strain of HPV that causes genital warts to appear is not the same strain of HPV that causes cervical cancer. Genital warts do not increase your risk for cervical cancer.

A regular Pap smear is essential to detect a high risk HPV infection that is associated with cervical cancer. A Pap smear can detect these changes long before they become cancerous. HPV that causes cervical changes does not cause any symptoms, so a Pap smear is vital for early detection.

Diagnosing HPV in Men

Unfortunately for men, there is no medical screening test that can determine if a man is infected with HPV. A doctor can visually examine the genitals for the presence of genital warts. Just like in women, HPV does not always produce symptoms, so men may be infected without showing any signs.

Sources:

"HPV Vaccine Q and A." National Immunization Program. 07 July 2006. Centers for Disease Control. Accessed 14 Sept 2007.

Centers for Disease and Prevention."Sexually Transmitted Disease Guidelines 2006." Sep 2006. Accessed 15 Sept 2007.

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