Did you know that about 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV! About 14 million people become newly infected each year. HPV is so common that most sexually-active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives.
Can HPV cause cancer? HPV can cause cervical and other cancers including cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. It can also cause cancer in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (called oropharyngeal cancer). Cancer often takes years, even decades, to develop after a person gets HPV. The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the types of HPV that can cause cancers. There is no way to know which people who have HPV will develop cancer or other health problems. People with weak immune systems (including individuals with HIV/AIDS) may be less able to fight off HPV and more likely to develop health problems from it. (from the CDC)
Well, we all know that prevention is the best solution but what if you already have it?
The length of time varies based on age, diagnosis, and if you have previously had a pap that can back abnormal. You should start getting regular paps starting at 21 years old. A pap smear looks for precancers, cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately.
Here are some guidelines for HPV positive women:
If a woman receiving Pap and HPV cotesting is found to have a normal Pap test result with a positive HPV test that detects the group of high-risk HPV types, the doctor will probably have the woman return in a year for repeat screening to see if the HPV infection persists and whether any cell changes have developed that need further follow-up. Alternatively, the woman may have another HPV test that looks specifically for HPV-16 and HPV-18, the two HPV types that cause most cervical cancers. If either of these types is present, a woman will likely have follow-up testing.
If a woman is found to have an ASC-US Pap test result, her doctor may have the sample tested for high-risk HPV types or may repeat the Pap test to determine whether further follow-up is needed.
Follow-up testing for ASC-US with a positive HPV test, for LSIL, or for HSIL, may involve a colposcopy, in which an instrument much like a microscope (called a colposcope) is used to examine the vagina and the cervix. During a colposcopy, the doctor inserts a speculum to widen the vagina and may apply a dilute vinegar solution to the cervix, which causes abnormal areas to turn white. The doctor then uses the colposcope (which remains outside the body) to observe the cervix.
If abnormal tissue is found during a colposcopy, the doctor may perform endocervical curettage or a biopsy. A biopsy is the removal of cells or tissues from the abnormal area for examination under a microscope. Endocervical curettage is a type of biopsy that involves scraping cells from inside the endocervical canal with a small spoon-shaped tool called a curette. If follow-up testing shows cells with more severe abnormalities, further treatment is needed. Without treatment, these cells may turn into cancer.
Treatment options include the following:
LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure) uses an electrical current that is passed through a thin wire loop to act as a knife to remove tissue.
Cryotherapy destroys abnormal tissue by freezing it.
Laser therapy uses a narrow beam of intense light to destroy or remove abnormal cells.
Conization removes a cone-shaped piece of tissue using a knife, a laser, or the LEEP technique.
Women who smoke are twice as likely as non-smokers to get cervical cancer. Tobacco by-products have been found in the cervical mucus of women who smoke! (source)
Poor nutritional status is linked to cervical cancer. Folate and B12 deficiency has been associated with increased HPV infection. Read more about naturopathic treatments for cervical dysplasia HERE.