It’s estimated that approximately 80 million people in the United States have human papillomavirus (HPV), and the majority don’t even realize it. This very common virus can lead to genital warts and other serious medical conditions such as cervical cancer. Dr. Houmam Al-Hakeem is a board-certified gynecologist who can accurately diagnose and treat HPV-related issues. Call Westover Hills Women’s Health in San Antonio today to make an appointment or try Dr. Al-Hakeem’s convenient online scheduling service.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is an umbrella term for more than 100 strains of viruses that can cause bumpy skin growths called warts. The majority of these viruses don’t cause growths at all or they may lead to harmless warts on outer skin surfaces such as the hands and feet.
Several HPV strains, however, are attracted to the skin and moist mucous membranes of the anal and genital areas. These strains are transmitted through sexual contact and the majority of infections resolve without you even knowing you had the virus. HPV is so common that it’s believed most sexually active people will have at least one infection in their lifetime.
Unfortunately, a couple of the HPV strains (16 and 18) are thought to be responsible for more than 70% of cervical cancers. Others can lead to cancer of the anus, vagina, and penis. And still other forms of HPV cause genital warts which may appear as small bumps or cauliflower-type growths in the genital areas.
Most people with HPV have no symptoms until they develop genital warts or have an abnormal Pap smear result during cervical cancer screening. It can take years for genital warts or cancer caused by HPV to develop. Routine gynecologic exams with Pap smears are often the best way to spot changes consistent with HPV early, when treatment is most effective.
There is no treatment for the virus itself, but effective options exist for genital warts and other conditions caused by HPV. Depending on their location, genital warts can cause burning or stinging pain and discomfort. Their appearance can also lead to emotional distress. Dr. Al-Hakeem may recommend surgical removal or various forms of prescription ointments to dissolve the warts.
For cervical changes noted on a Pap smear, Dr. Al-Hakeem may suggest further study with colposcopy. This is a painless procedure during which a small tube with a light and tiny camera at the end are inserted into the vagina and moved upward to the cervix. This provides a better view of the area and helps determine the degree of vaginal infection and cervical changes.
Depending on the findings, he may also recommend a loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) to remove abnormal or precancerous cells from your cervix before they develop into cancer.