While HPV infection is the leading cause of cervical cancer, in reality it is very rare for HPV infection to progress to cancer with proper treatment. 60 to 80 % of CIN 1 dysplasias resolve on their own, and only about 1% of cases progress to invasive cervical cancer.
HPV is a viral infection of the skin. It is important to realize infection with any virus has no cure. This includes, for example, the virus that causes chicken pox, and the flu virus. Much like HPV, there is no cure for these viruses but there are ways to treat the symptoms of the virus. The natural immune response is responsible for clearing these viruses from the body. Recent medical studies indicate that the HPV virus is more often than not cleared from the body due to an effective immune response within 8-24 months.(sources) So while there is "no cure" the virus is typically not a life-long affliction.
Is There a Vaccine For HPV?
As of April, 2005, Merck & Co. was in the final stages of a Phase III human trial (including over 25 000 women) for a HPV vaccine which targets types 16 and 18 and types 6 and 11 of the virus, which cause cervical cancer and visible genital warts respectively. They expect this trial to conclude by the end of 2005, and hope to apply to the United States Food and Drug Administration for permission to release it commercially. GlaxoSmithKline is also working on a vaccine which only targets the cancer-causing types 16 and 18. GSK's vaccine is also in the midst of a Phase III human trial (over 30 000 women), but that study commenced in 2004 and is still running.
UPDATE! On June 8, 2006, the FDA approved Gardasil, a prophylactic HPV vaccine which is marketed by Merck. The vaccine protects women against initial infection with HPV types 16 and 18, which together cause 70 percent of cervical cancers. The vaccine also protects against HPV types 6 and 11, which cause 90 percent of genital warts. Women aged nine through twenty-six can be vaccinated. GlaxoSmithKline is expected to seek approval for a prophylactic vaccine targeting HPV types 16 and 18 early in 2007. Since the vaccine will not protect women against all the HPV types that cause cervical cancer, it will be important for women to continue to seek Pap smear testing, even after receiving the vaccine.
Are HPV and Genital Warts the Same Thing?
HPV stands for Human Papilloma Virus, a viral infection of the skin. Genital Warts is the manifestation of HPV as small bumps in the genital region. HPV is the cause of Genital Warts, but medically they are not the "same thing". Genital Warts is a symptom of HPV infection somewhat like a fever is a symptom of the FLU virus. Infection with HPV does not always cause Genital Warts to appear on the skin. There are many types of HPV which can cause different symptoms about 30 of which can be sexually tansmitted. Only 2 of these are most commonly associated with genital warts.
Can I have Children if I have HPV?
Many people fear that infection with HPV will restrict their ability to have children, or that they will pass HPV to their child during birth. Transfer of HPV from mother to child during child birth, while possible, is extremely rare. According to the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals: "Most clinicians do not believe that the risk to the baby of acquiring laryngeal papillomatosis (HPV 6- or 11-induced warts in the larynx or upper airway) is great enough to justify delivery by Cesarean section of women who have genital warts at the time of delivery." Further: "Once warts are no longer present, especially if a woman is clear of any detectable HPV lesions for at least 6 months or more, the risk of transmitting HPV to the baby is exceedingly low." While severe complications with cervical cancer may make it impossible to have children, cervical cancer is a very rare manifestation of HPV and thus for most people with HPV not cause for concern.(More) To sum up, having HPV will not limit your ability to have children and the risk of vertical transmission to the oral or genital region of newborns is rare.(source)
Is HPV associated with HIV and AIDS?
Upon diagnosis with HPV,many people are concerned that it is closely related to HIV or that HPV diagnosis might be fatal. While both can be sexually transmitted, HIV and HPV are very different. HPV infection is limited to the skin of the genitals and often times the womans cervix. Alternatively HIV is trasmitted via bodily fluids such as blood or semen. HIV stands for "Human Immunodeficiency Virus " which specifically targets the immune system, breaking down its function until onset of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) in which the body is no longer able to fight of viruses. Since HPV is limited to the skin, the immune system is often able to fight off the virus before it causes great harm. HPV can, in rare instances, lead to cervical cancer. With regular pap-smears and proper treatment, HPV very rarely leads to serious complications such as this.(sources)
Do I need to inform my partner of current or prior HPV infection?
According to the Association for Reproductive Health Professionals:While it is impossible to tell anyone exactly when they have little-to-no chance of passing HPV to a partner, as months go by with no lesions found (especially if none are found by a skilled clinician), the possibility of being contagious is likely to be increasingly remote even if the virus remains in a latent state. The inability to be 100% sure that one is no longer contagious should foster honesty whenever a new relationship begins. This should be tempered with the fact that most people are exposed to this virus during their life, and that, for most, this virus does not usually cause great harm.
For help in telling your partner about genital warts Click Here For Help in telling your partner about cervical changes Click Here To find other people with HPV to date Click Here