HPV stands for human papillomavirus, a very common and large family of viruses that typically are transmitted through sexual contact. HPV is so common, just about every sexually-active person will contract it at some point, and in most cases, the body’s defense system will be able to eradicate the virus and clear it from the body. Sometimes, though, the virus persists, causing an infection that can result in genital warts or increase the risk of certain cancers.
HPV is often detected during routine HPV screening which is performed in much the same way as a Pap smear. It can also be detected following an abnormal Pap test result using an in-office exam called colposcopy. In this exam, a special solution is applied to the cervix and the surrounding area to evaluate the area and look for abnormal tissue. A device called a colposcope is positioned at the opening of the vagina and uses a lighted magnifying lens to make it easier to view the area. When an area of abnormal tissue is located, it can be biopsied (sampled) and evaluated in a lab to look for definitive signs of HPV infection. To date, there is no blood test that can be used to look for HPV infection.
When a long-term HPV infection does occur, treatments are available to manage issues caused by the infection. Genital warts can be treated using one of several state-of-the-art approaches including cryotherapy and lasers. Abnormal cells on or near the cervix can be treated during simple in-office procedures to prevent these cells from developing into cancers. At our practice, each patient receives an individualized plan of care to achieve the best results.
The best way to prevent HPV is to be vaccinated before becoming sexually active. Using condoms can also help prevent transmission of the virus.
*Individual results may vary