Sensible Advice about HPV

How the most common sexually transmitted infection became a leading cancer killer.

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The Pap test can detect abnormal changes on the cervix, which can be caused by HPV, but it can also detect changes caused by other infections and non-infectious factors. The Pap test can detect precancerous and cancerous cells that are most likely caused by one or more of the high-risk HPV types. This test is a major victory for decreasing the rates of cervical cancer because it catches cellular changes in an early, more curable stage. But the Pap test can only saves lives when people actually take the test and take it with some regularity.

Men who have suspicious warts can do a home test that involves wrapping the penis for 2 minutes with a vinegar-soaked rag to see if any areas turn white. Since this isn't an official or perfect test, all lesions should be checked by a healthcare professional.

How is HPV-associated cancer treated?

If abnormal cervical cells are suspicious for cancer, a small sample of the tissue removed during colposcopy - an instrument that magnifies tissue in the vagina and cervix - and examined further under a microscope to rule out or confirm a diagnosis of cervical cancer. If cancerous cells are found they can be surgically removed via freezing (cryosurgery), electrosurgery (LEEP) or conventional surgery.

Treatment for other HPV-associated cancers of the head, neck, penis, vulva, throat and mouth include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

How can you prevent HPV-associated cancers?

The only guaranteed way is to abstain from all sexual contact. Or you can remain in a mutually exclusive sexual relationship with a confirmed HPV-free individual. Unfortunately, both strategies are not only impractical, they are nearly impossible.

Consistent and correct use of a latex condom during intercourse can protect somewhat, but it won't protect against transmission that can occur without penetration through skin-to-skin or genital-to-mouth contact. Even infected couples in a mutually monogamous relationship can still transmit the virus back and forth to each other.