What are HPV and Genital Warts?
HPV (which stands for Human Papilloma Virus) is the most common type of viral STI in Ireland. It can cause genital warts and certain types of cancer, most commonly Cervical Cancer in women. The virus causes changes to the cells in the cervix, and is the biggest cause of cervical cancer. HPV is also linked to other cancers in both men and women including: vulval, penile, anal, throat and oral cancers.
Genital Warts may be either flat or bumpy, resembling raspberries or cauliflowers in appearance. The warts begin as small red or pink growths. In some cases they can grow as large as four inches across, interfering with intercourse and childbirth. They are usually much smaller. Growths may also be hidden or invisible, so regular HPV testing is recommended.
The viral type which causes genital warts in considered to be low risk. This means you are not at high risk of developing a cancer from this viral type.
Did you know? …
HPV are a group of over 100 viruses, some of which can be sexually transmitted and cause Gential Warts, Cervical Cancer and other cancers. Click here to see the full article.
How can I get HPV?
HPV is highly infectious and can be transmitted through touch including sexual contact. This includes oral, anal, or vaginal sexual intercourse. It is possible for you to catch it or pass it on, even if you or your partner is wearing a condom. This is because the condom does not cover the whole genital area. It is very difficult to know if your partner is carrying the virus,as often the infected person will have no symptoms. There is no reliable test in men who do not have symptoms. Genital Warts do not have to be present on the carrier for their partner to become infected with the virus as it can also be caught from touching the skin of the infected person as well as through sexual fluids.
How do I know if I have it?
It is difficult to tell whether you have the virus because many types of HPV cause no symptoms. Some types cause Genital Warts, which may look like small pink spots, raised bumps or cauliflower shaped warts. In men, these warts tend to form on the shaft, head or base of the penis. In women, these warts may form in or around the vagina or the labia or "lips".
The more serious types of HPV (High Risk HPV) are the ones which cause cancers and usually these do not have any visible symptoms. Therefore, the only way to find out if you have any of the types is to get tested. For women, it is extremely important to get tested regularly through cervical smears given the risks of developing cervical cancer. For MSM, having regular anal swabs is equally important.
Better2Know offers a comprehensive suite of tests for women and men. For women, we offer a full examination of your HPV status and cervical health.
For women, the following testing options are available:
- Better2Know combined PAP smear and HPV test - Recommended for women who are concerned about their HPV status and cervical health, this combined test will look for any changes to the cells of your cervix as well as test you for 20 types of the virus.
- Better2Know PAP Smear - Uses a small brush to collect cells from your cervix and these cells will be examined for any trace of abnormalities. With this test, and only if any abnormalities are detected, the sample will be automatically tested for the relevant virus types.
- Better2Know HPV test - Obtains a sample from an appropriate site that is tested using a PCR method to detect up to 20 High Risk and Low Risk viral types. It should be noted that this test may disrupt the cells of the cervix rendering them unsuitable to PAP testing for a period of time.
For men, Better2Know offers swab tests. Your Better2Know Doctor will determine the appropriate site (visible wart, urethra, or anus) for sampling.
Results are available five days from when your sample is received in the testing laboratory.
There is no cure for the virus. Once you contract the virus, medicine cannot help to get rid of it. Although in many people their body gets rid of the virus naturally over time. The symptoms of Genital Warts can be treated. If you have visible warts, these can typically be removed with lasers, creams, surgery or can be frozen off (cryotherapy).
You can choose to be vaccinated against some high risk types of HPV. With vaccination, you can protect yourself against types 6 and 11 (which cause 90% of Genital Warts) and types 16 and 18 (which cause 70% of cervical cancers). See our vaccines page for more details.
Genital warts may enlarge during pregnancy due to hormones. If the warts become large enough they could become an obstacle to delivery, requiring a caesarean section. In some instances warts are passed from mother to child during childbirth, leading to a potentially life-threatening condition for newborns in which warts develop in the throat (Laryngeal Papillomatosis).
Persistent HPV infections are now recognized as the major cause of cervical cancer and may play a role in some cancers of the anus, vulva, vagina, and penis. Studies have also found that oral HPV infection is a strong risk factor for oropharyngeal cancer (cancer that forms in tissues of the oropharynx, which is the middle part of the throat and includes the soft palate, the base of the tongue and the tonsils).