The treatment of HPV

Infection with HPV (human papillomavirus) is common. In fact there are more than 100 different types of HPV, of which about 40 infect the genital area. While there is no medication that can be taken to get rid of HPV, the good news is that the infection can clear up on its own thanks to your body’s own immune system.

HPV infection has no symptoms in most cases, however some low risk types can lead to genital warts. A persistent infection with certain high-risk types of HPV can cause cells in the cervix to change, which can increase the risk of cervical cancer. The types of HPV that cause genital warts are not associated to the types that cause an increased risk of cervical cancer.

Treatment depends on the type of HPV virus you have contracted. The low risk type of HPV that cause genital warts can be removed by a number of different methods in consultation with your doctor. Treatment of the high risk types of HPV that cause cervical cancer will depend on the stage of development at the time of diagnosis.

Treatment for genital warts

Successful treatment of cervical, anal and genital warts is approximately eight months on average. Eliminating the visible aspect of the warts will not always eliminate the HPV virus completely and the warts can reappear. Immediate aggressive treatment of warts when they appear is discouraged, as they could still be emerging and repeat treatment maybe needed later. The HPV types associated with genital warts tend to grow for about six months, then stabilise. Sometimes, visible genital warts go away without treatment.

When treatment is indicated, you can get a prescription cream from your doctor to apply at home. Alternatively, a doctor may offer other types of wart-removal treatments. These options are:

  • Cryotherapy which is the freezing off of warts with liquid nitrogen;

  • Trichloracetic acid which is a chemical applied to the surface of the wart;

  • Surgical removal where cells are cut with a scalpel;

  • Electrocautery where warts are burnt off using an electric current; or

  • Laser vaporisation or excision of the warts.

Treatment for HPV cell tissue changes or pre-cancerous lesions

Pre-cancerous lesions rarely have visual symptoms. If noticed through a Pap smear or a colposcopy, your doctor would use a special magnifying device to look at your vulva, vagina and cervix. If a problem is seen, a small sample of tissue may be taken from the cervix or from inside the opening of the cervix for further examination and testing. A colposcopy is usually done to look at the vagina and cervix when the result of a Pap or HPV test is abnormal.

On average, it does take as much as 10 years for pre-cancerous cells to develop into cancer, so having a regular screening will ensure that any abnormal cells are detected early. One of the most common reasons a woman develops cervical cancer is due to a lack of regular screening. 

If the abnormal cell changes occur as a result of the HPV infection, then there are four main treatment options:

  • Watch and wait. Sometimes the cell changes - called cervical dysplasia or precancerous cell changes - will heal on their own;

  • Cryotherapy involves the freezing the abnormal cells with liquid nitrogen;

  • Conisation is a procedure also known as a cone biopsy, which removes the abnormal areas; or

  • Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP) is when abnormal cells are removed with an electrical current.

  • If changes in the cells are advanced, then they may need to be treated by surgery and chemo or radiation therapy.

The goal is to remove all the abnormal cells and thus remove most or all of the cells infected with HPV.

The importance of regular HPV testing

It is important to remember HPV is 100% treatable and that cervical cancer begins as a precancerous condition. This is why it is critical that women test regularly for HPV with either an HPV test to detect the virus early, or a Pap smear to determine visible cell changes. 

The UDoHPVTest is a discreet, accurate, safe and convenient home test that is straight forward, accurate and fast. It takes 30 seconds to do and requires no doctors appointment. Early detection is crucial so cell abnormalities can be treated before they become cancerous.