The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) – What it is, Symptoms and Prevention

The cervix is ​​the narrow lower portion of the uterus, which opens into the vagina. The Human Papilloma Virus ( HPV ) most often causes cervical cancer, which is a common sexually transmitted infection. Estimates show that around 14 million new infections occur each year. However, most people who have HPV  infections do not experience any symptoms, and many cases go away without treatment.

However, certain strains of the virus can infect cells and cause problems, such as genital warts or cancer. Cervical cancer used to be the leading cancer in death in American women, but it is now considered the easiest female cancer to prevent. Regular testing, HPV vaccines and HPV testing have made it easier to prevent cervical cancer. Knowing the symptoms of cervical cancer can also lead to earlier detection and faster treatment.

Cervical Cancer Symptoms:  People rarely have symptoms of cervical cancer in its early stages. This is why having a regular Pap test is so important to ensure early detection and treatment of precancerous lesions. Symptoms typically only appear when cancer cells grow through the top layer of tissue from the cervix into the tissue below it. This occurs when precancerous cells are left untreated andinvasive cervical cancer progresses. At this point, people sometimes mistake common symptoms for being benign, such as irregular vaginal bleeding and vaginal discharge .

Irregular Bleeding: Irregular  vaginal bleeding is the most common symptom ofinvasive cervical cancer. Bleeding can occur between menstrual periods or after sex. Sometimes it shows as blood-stained vaginal discharge , which often gets dismissed as spotting. Vaginal bleeding can also occur in postmenopausal women who no longer have menstrual periods. This is never normal and could be a warning sign of cervical cancer or another serious problem. You should go to the doctor if this happens.

Vaginal Discharge:  Along with bleeding, many people also begin to experienceabnormal vaginal discharge . The discharge can be:

  • White.
  • Clear.
  • Watered down.
  • Brown.
  • Bad smell.
  • Blood-stained.

Advanced Symptoms:  While bleeding and discharge can be early signs of cervical cancer , more serious symptoms will develop in later stages. Symptoms of advanced cervical cancer can include:

  • Back or pelvic pain
  • Difficulty urinating or defecating
  • Swelling of one or both legs
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss

HPV and Cervical Cancer: HPV  is transmitted through sexual contact. Transmission occurs when the skin or mucous membranes of an infected person comes into physical contact with the skin or mucous membranes of a person who is not infected. In most cases, the infection causes no symptoms, which makes it easy to inadvertently transfer it to someone else.

Who Is At Risk/Risk Factors:  Knowing the warning signs as well as your risks increases your chances of detecting cervical cancer and HPV early before it progresses. Risk factors for cervical cancer include:

High risk HPV infection:

  • Long-term oral use of birth control pills
  • A weakened immune system

Risk Factors For HPV Include:

  • A high number of sexual partners
  • First sexual intercourse at a young age
  • A weakened immune system

Prevention of HPV and Cervical Cancer:  Vaccination against HPV is the best preventive measure to take against cervical cancer . For women who have not received the vaccination, Pap smears are the key means of preventing cervical cancer . The Pap smear, or smear, is one of the most reliable cancer screening tests available. These tests can detect abnormal cells and precancerous changes in the cervix.

Early detection allows these abnormal cells and changes to be treated before they turn into cancer. Your doctor may perform a Pap smear during a routine gynecological exam. This involves scraping the cervix to collect cells for examination under a microscope. The doctor may also do an HPV test at the same time they do a Pap smear. This involves scraping the cervix, then examining the cells for evidence of HPV DNA.

Vaccination:  The HPV vaccination is advisable for females aged 9-26 for the prevention of HPV infection, cervical cancer as well as genital warts. It is only effective when given to people before they become infected with the virus. The vaccine protects against the two most common high-risk types of HPV , strain 16 and 18. These two strains are responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancers. It also protects against strain 6 and 1, which cause 90 percent of genital warts.

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