The human papillomavirus (HPV) is common among women in the United States. The virus comes in many forms and less than a third of these are transmitted through sexual activity. A woman may not even realize she has HPV unless she develops symptoms or undergoes a test performed by her doctor. In some cases, HPV can cause devastating problems, including cervical cancer. Although frightening, there are many treatments for women dealing with HPV.
Unfortunately, there is no way to cure the HPV itself. Treatments for the infection come in the form of symptom control and prevention. Once a woman undergoes a laboratory test for HPV and her results come back positive, her doctor may choose to take no action and instead watch her closely. In many cases, HPV clears up on its own and does not cause any further damage to the uterus. It isn’t scientifically clear what causes some women to be more likely to develop cervical cancer. Women who smoke are twice as likely as their counterparts to succumb to cancer due to HPV. Additionally, women with a weakened immune system may be more likely to undergo the precancerous changes to their cells that is associated with HPV.
One visual symptom of HPV is the development of genital warts. This condition is caused by the types of HPV that are less likely to cause cervical cancer. Genital warts can be painful and embarrassing. Treatments for genital warts include topical medications and an in-office procedure to remove them.
Other treatments of the virus itself include cryotherapy. In cryotherapy, doctors freeze the discovered cells that could be precancerous with liquid nitrogen. Another possible solution is an invasive procedure called conization, in which the cells are removed from the cervix through biopsy.
A loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) can be performed. This is a process of removing the cells by way of an electrical current. It is not painful and much less invasive than other treatments. The purpose of a LEEP is to remove all cells that appear to be abnormal and as a result prevent cancerous cells to develop.
In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration approved the world’s first vaccine against the types of HPV that can lead to cervical cancer and genital warts. This vaccine, called Gardisil, is recommended by doctors for girls between the ages of 11 and 12. Also, because in some cases the virus is transmitted through sexual activity, abstinence or use of a condom is another effective way to help prevent HPV.