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What is HPV?

Topic: Gynecology

HPV stands for Human Papilloma Virus. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world. Up to 75% of sexually active Canadians will have an HPV infection in their lifetime with the highest rates in those age 15-24.

What’s the big deal? Why do we care?
There are different types of HPV, low risk types and high-risk types. The Low-risk types can cause genital warts, while the high risk types can cause cancer. Not everyone with HPV will have symptoms, many people are asymptomatic.

  • Genital Warts
    • Warts/lesions on penis, vulva and vagina
    • May be asymptomatic, not always painful
    • Can be treated by a physician
  • Cervical Cancer
    • The most important way to prevent and screen for precancerous cells is having regular routine pap tests
    • Women may be asymptomatic

Is HPV associated with other cancers?
Yes, vulvar, anal and even some oral cancers

How do you get HPV?
HPV is most commonly transmitted through sexual and intimate contact (oral, vaginal, anal, genital touch).

How can you prevent HPV?

  • Condoms may be helpful to prevent transmission but are not 100% effective
  • There is a very effective vaccine that protects against many of the subtypes of HPV
    • Gardisil
    • Talk to your provider about vaccination
    • Approved for females age 9-45 and males age 9-26

How can you be tested for HPV?

  • Routine HPV testing is NOT performed in Alberta except in certain circumstances (this varies across Canada)
  • Pap tests are performed to screen for abnormal and precancerous cells on the cervix and based on those results of the Pap test HPV testing may be performed.
  • Genital warts can be diagnosed by inspection or a biopsy

How do you get rid of HPV?
Once you have the HPV virus there is no way to eradicate it. Your body often clears the virus on its own, but you can get re-infected. Genital warts can be treated but this doesn’t clear the virus.

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