There are over 100 strains of human papillomavirus that may cause sexually transmitted diseases (STD). STD corresponds to diseases which may pass from one individual to another during sexual intercourse or even because of direct contact with the genital mucous membranes. These viruses can spread through genital or skin to skin contact from one person to another, and around 50% of the population with an active sex life must have HPV infection at some stage in their lifetime. It is, therefore, cannot be regarded as a new type of virus. In fact, HPV or human papillomavirus is one of the most common forms of sexually transmitted diseases affecting both men and women. HPV often generate no signs or symptoms and go away without causing any sort of health issues.
Interestingly, over 80% of women around the world suffer from HPV infection at some stage in their life. Still, women are not very conscious about the adverse effects of these viruses, particularly in the developing and underdeveloped countries. While some HPV species produce only harmless genital warts in women, others may result in serious diseases such as cervical and other types of cancer in women. HPV is the only reason behind cervical cancer in women (1) and may cause cancer of the vulva, anus, and vagina. Surprisingly, it can also cause throat cancer in women as well as in men (2). It is important to recognize HPV infection as early as possible to start its effective management and treatment. Although some HPV can be identified easily by their symptoms, some may require additional testing and professional medical examination.
Any woman may have HPV if she at least once has experienced genital contact with another person in her lifetime. It can be transmitted from both men to women and vice versa. You may acquire it unknowingly as there is a typical sign or symptoms of the infection at the beginning. It often takes years for the manifestation of the disease to emerge. Thus the HPV infection a woman may be suffering from can be due to a sexual intercourse she had made years ago.
Women who indulge in the following activities are at greater risk of acquiring HPV:
- Have a sex partner who in turn has more than one partner.
- Have more than one or several sex partners.
- Start sex life at an early age.
Some Common symptoms of HPV are:
The immune system of your body takes care of the HPV in most occasions resulting in no signs, and the virus goes away on its own. But when the immune system fails to prevent HPV infection, warts are created. The appearance of warts will, of course, depend on the type of HPV involved in the infection.
Warts in the Genital Area
These warts have a small stem-like protrusion or tiny cauliflower-like bumps or a flat lesion like appearance. In most cases, these warts appear on the vulva in women. However, in some cases, they may appear in the vagina or the cervix or near the anus (3). These warts hardly cause any kind of pain or discomfort. Sometimes they may cause itchiness.
Flat warts slightly raised lesions with a flat at the top. It appears darker than your original skin tone and may appear on any part of your body. But for women, they usually appear on the legs.
These warts are grainy and hard protruded growth that appears on your heels and on the balls of the feet. As a result, they usually cause discomfort during walking.
Common Warts in other Areas
Warts may appear in other parts of your body as common warts. The appearance of these warts is more common on elbows, fingers, and hands. They are raised rough and raised bumps with no discomfort except the unsightly appearance. Sometimes they are painful and susceptible to bleeding following injury.
Methods to Recognize HPV in Women
For women the following techniques can be employed to identify the possible HPV infection:
HPV with Low Risk
The appearance of warts conveys the symptom of HPV with low risk. Typically genital warts are the most evident form of low-risk HPV symptoms. Genital warts as mentioned are small and may be raised or flat bumps or lesions or protrusions. Genital warts are usually formed in groups and may appear long after the initial infection. Look for genital warts in the vulva and labia area where they commonly form. But they can be present in the cervix, vagina, and anus. HPV strains with low risk may form warts around the cervix, but usually, do not lead to cancerous growth.
HPV with High Risk
The problem is that high-risk HPV infections usually do not have any typical symptoms. The symptoms are only manifested when the disease (usually a cancerous growth) has progressed to an advanced stage. Therefore, it is essential to have a pelvic examination by a professional gynecologist at least once per year. A gynecologist may detect any early signs of high-risk HPV (4) at an early stage. Advance stage of cervical cancer has the following symptoms:
- Discomfort in the vagina.
- Irregularity in menstrual cycles.
- Loss of appetite.
- Odorous vaginal discharge.
- One leg getting swollen.
- Pain in pelvic region, legs or back.
- Spotting or irregular bleeding after sexual intercourse or between periods.
- Weight loss and fatigue.
Recognition of Other Types of Cancer
High-risk HPV is also associated with other types of cancer apart from cervical cancer. Though uncommon, it can also produce throat, anal and vulva cancer. It is important to screen for these cancers as well for early detection and treatment. Self-screening is a good mean to recognize cancer in these areas. Use your clean palm to swipe over the exposed area of your vulva and anus to detect any possible lumps or genital warts.
As there is no definite time frame during which you may develop cervical cancer, it is advisable for women to have a Pap test done in every three years to screen for possible cancerous cells. In case there are any abnormalities in the Pap test, further tests or more frequent Pap test may be necessary.