If you’ve heard of someone receiving medical treatment for a human papilloma virus (HPV) infection, what’s happened is they’ve had treatment to control or remove HPV symptoms (which may appear in the form of genital warts). There is no medical “cure,” as such, for HPV; that’s why doctors recommend safe sex and the HPV vaccine as methods of preventing infection. Many women infected with HPV are totally unaware that they carry the virus, because in many cases no HPV symptoms are present. The Pap smear test is often the first step in detecting HPV infection, so if you haven’t had one done in a while, you should ask your doctor to be tested. If you already know that you carry the HPV virus you should attend regular Pap smear tests to make sure the infection hasn’t progressed. There is a proven link between HPV infection and cervical cancer in women.
Immune System Defense
In most cases of HPV infection in women, the immune system kicks into action and actually rids the body of the virus. This is especially true in younger women (under the age of 30). If you are a HPV carrier and you have already developed genital warts, you may find that you don’t require medical treatment to make the warts go away, but you must consult a doctor. Although around 70 % of cases of cervical cancer are linked to HPV infection, not all women who contract HPV go on to develop cervical cancer. Getting a positive HPV test result is certainly not a death sentence. The condition should be carefully monitored to give your doctors the best chance of intervening long before cancer cells develop (and there’s no guarantee that they will).
The type of treatment you’re likely to be offered for genital warts, or for any HPV-related growths in the genital area, will depend on a number of factors - including your general health and the stage of the infection (whether or not the growths are in a non-advanced or an advanced pre-cancerous stage). Treatment for the warts or growths does not kill the virus in your body - you may still be a HPV carrier and, if so, you are at risk of infecting someone else (ask your doctor for advice on safe sex). The warts may grow back at some point in the future.
Non-Advanced Pre-Cancerous Warts
You should ask your doctor about the following medical treatment options (if he or she hasn’t discussed these with you already): Imiquimod cream and Podofix cream are two potential solutions for genital warts which don’t involve burning, cutting or freezing off the warts. (If more radical methods are used, you will be given pain relief – don’t panic!) Imiquimod may enhance your immune system’s ability to fight off the HPV. Podofix destroys the genital wart tissue. Trichloroacetic acid or electrocautery may be used to burn off the warts. Trichloroacetic acid is a tissue-burning chemical; electrocautery uses an electrical current to burn off the warts. Liquid nitrogen may be used to freeze off the warts (this technique is called cryotherapy). Conventional or laser surgery may be used to cut the warts away.
Advanced Pre-Cancerous Growths
For HPV-related growths which are already in a more advanced pre-cancerous (or indeed cancerous) state, your doctor is likely to recommend removing the warts or growths as quickly as possible. This is likely to involve one of the more radical methods of wart removal listed above (such as conventional or laser surgery, cryotherapy or electrocautery).
Prevention Is Better Than Cure
Doctors are keen to raise awareness of HPV prevention. It is, of course, extremely important to defend yourself against all sexually transmitted infections, but the lack of a medical “cure” for HPV and the link to cervical cancer makes preventative measures all the more crucial. If you are already sexually active (even if you’ve only had one partner) the first step is to get yourself tested for HPV. You can then reduce your chances of contracting HPV by conducting mutually monogamous sexual relationships and limiting your number of sexual partners. Always, always, use latex condoms every time you have sex with someone new, and continue to use latex condoms until both of you have gone for an STD test and gotten the all clear.
A vaccination (called Gardasil) against certain types of HPV has been developed for women. Doctors are recommending it particularly for young girls who have yet to become sexually active. This vaccination protects you only against forms of the virus with which you have not already come into contact and contracted. Talk to your doctor for more information.