Genital Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection is the commonest Viral STI in the UK and the majority of sexually active individuals will have HPV infection at some point in their lives.
There are over 100 strains of HPV and around 40 of them affect the genital regions where they can cause either genital warts (low risk strains) or cancerous and precancerous changes (high risk strains). Persisting high risk HPV infection is associated with cervical cancer in 99% of cases. However, high risk HPV infection has also been directly linked to cancers of the anus, mouth and throat, penis, vulva and vagina.
HPV infection is very common and is transmitted by sexual activity, including oral, anal and vaginal sex. Condoms can reduce the risk of transmission, it does not fully protect against it.
Most people who have HPV infection are not aware that they have the infection and the infection is cleared by their own immune system.
In some people, the symptoms can manifest many years after they have acquired the initial infection.
- These are fleshy lumps or bumps found around the genital regions. They can be small, raised, multiple, very large and shaped like cauliflowers.
- Genital warts are generally harmless and will eventually clear without need for treatment. However, they can become very large and are a source of embarrassment.
- Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35 years of age and is responsible for 2% of cancers in women overall. HPV leads to changes in the cells of the cervix causing cancerous changes to occur over many years.
- 70% of cervical cancers are due to HPV types 16 and 18.
High risk HPV infection has been directly attributable to:
- Anal cancer in around 80% to 90% of cases, mainly due to strains 16 and 18. The risk is increased in men who have sex with men.
- Around 40% of vulval and vaginal cancer.
- Around 30% of cancers of the mouth and throat.
- Around 47% of cancers of the penis.
We can screen for the most important strains of HPV including the high risks strains associated with cancer. This is done via highly accurate DNA testing on a swab and we can discuss with you how to manage positive results, including vaccination, if appropriate.
Participation in Cervical screening programmes is essential as this allows early detection and treatment of precancerous changes to the cervix.
There is no treatment for HPV infection itself. In the majority of individuals, the immune system will clear the virus.
Treatment is used to manage the symptoms of HPV infection.
As HPV is very common and can be acquired from sexual activity, the best method of prevention is with the highly effective vaccination-Gardasil and now Gardasil-9 Additional link here to HPV vaccine.