Body + Mind is reader-supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through some of the links on our site.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) plagues many women at some point in their lives, but many females remain unaware of this risk. As researchers link HPV with cervical and other forms of cancer, women should educate themselves as to their risk and what they can do to prevent contracting the virus or for coping with the disorder once diagnosed. What are the symptoms of HPV in females, how can we prevent it and how is it cured?
While no cure exists for HPV, those exhibiting changes as a result of the virus can receive treatment to lower their risk of developing cancer. With HPV, prevention truly makes for the best cure. Fortunately, young females today can benefit from the HPV vaccine to significantly lower their risk of ever contracting the virus, but women of all ages benefit from taking preventive measures to protect their sexual health.
Many women who contract HPV exhibit no symptoms at all. How, then, can they reduce their cancer risk? And what are the symptoms of HPV in females to look out for?
Fortunately, an annual pap smear often reveals silent cases of HPV, so women should make sure to keep their yearly appointment with the gynecologist. By far the most common symptom of the HPV virus among females involves the development of genital warts. However, this obvious symptom escapes many women’s attention because genital warts take many forms. Some women develop only pale pink spots while others develop larger, cauliflower-like formations.
Because so many women remain unaware they carry HPV, abnormal pap smears often provide the first symptom of HPV infection. In general, getting an annual screening for HPV suffices. However, for women who have developed cervical abnormalities or genital warts, gynecologists may suggest getting a pap smear biannually or even more often to watch for the early development of cancerous cells.
Most HPV infections spread by genital-to-genital contact. However, the HPV virus doesn’t limit itself to only the genital region. Other areas of the body can also become infected.
HPV can infect the cervix and vaginal walls, In addition, for those who engage in anal sex, HPV can spread to the rectum and causes genital warts to grow there. HPV also spreads via oral sex, and some unfortunate women have developed genital warts in their throat as a result.
Many women mistakenly believe they remain HPV-free by selecting same-sex partners. However, because HPV can spread through saliva, women not in monogamous relationships should utilize dental dams to decrease their risk of contracting the virus.
Fortunately, young women who have yet to experience sexual contact benefit from getting the HPV vaccine. Women of all ages, even those who have had sexual intercourse, can benefit from vaccinating against strains they have not contracted.
Most gynecologists recommend young women receive the vaccination between the ages of 11 and 12 or when they reach menarche. Some parents may shy away from the idea that their daughter could possibly start having sexual relationships so young, but as no cure exists yet for HPV, early prevention greatly decreases a young woman’s chance of ever contracting this potentially cancer-causing illness.
Women diagnosed with HPV may choose from several treatment options based on the specific recommendation from their gynecologists. Some early-stage HPV infections require no treatment other than close observation and more frequent pap smears to monitor whether or not potential cancer-causing abnormalities develop.
Females who have developed abnormal cells already as a result of HPV infection may elect to remove the offending cells via one of several methods. Cryotherapy involves using liquid nitrogen to freeze the abnormal tissue. In addition, some women may opt for a cone biopsy, which surgically removes the abnormal cells.
For those fearful of knives or cold, modern lasers can often remove precancerous cell growth with little downtime necessary. Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP) utilizes electrical current to eradicate abnormal cells.
Whether or not a woman has previously exhibited symptoms of HPV infection, all women should practice safer sex practices to avoid future exposure to the virus and protect their future sexual partners. Insisting upon condom use or dental dams for all sexual encounters helps prevent the spread of the disease. For the best prevention, women should use protection even for oral sexual encounters.
Limiting exposure to multiple sexual partners reduces the risk of both HPV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Preferably, women should seek a monogamous relationship to reduce risk. However, even those in monogamous long-term relationships should receive regular pap smears to detect potential precancerous cells.
Parents of preteen daughters should discuss the HPV vaccine with them and get them vaccinated. Older women hoping to reduce their risk likewise should obtain the vaccine. Lower-income women lacking adequate health insurance can obtain low- or no-cost vaccines from a local community health center or through a manufacturer’s discount program.
Even though HPV often remains undetected, taking common-sense measures to prevent the spread of the disease, as well as expanding access to the vaccine, will prevent future cases. Women wondering “what are the symptoms of HPV in females?” can empower themselves by learning about how HPV affects females differently and by taking measures to protect their sexual health. Through a combination of vaccination and education, people can eradicate the virus so no future generations of women need to fear contracting this cancer-causing disease.