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Causes of Human Papillomavirus HPV in Women

Updated on May 23, 2013

HPV Virus

The Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

There are over forty strains of the Human papillomavirus virus (HPV) that can affect humans. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) that affects both women and men. The target areas for infection are the mouth, throat and genital areas. The virus can exist in the body without producing any symptoms.

What causes HPV in Women?

The HPV virus is passed on from an infected intimate partner to the next. It is most commonly contracted through the vagina and anus. Women who perform oral on an infected partner may also contract HPV in the mouth and throat.

The body can host the HPV virus for years without the woman knowing she is infected. Sometimes the body will cure itself of the virus within two years, but if any strains of HPV goes undetected or untreated for too long there can be serious consequences.

The infected female (even after years of intimate inactivity) can pass on the virus to her new partner (male or female), and even to her unborn child if she becomes pregnant.

HPV Virus

HPV Symptoms in Women

When HPV manifest itself in women it may do so in several ways. These include:

1. Genital warts - These can grow inside and/or around the vagina. This includes on the vulva (lips of the vagina), on the cervix. They may also grow on the groin or the anus. Though rare, they can also grow in the mouth or the throat of a woman who had oral with an infected partner.

General Appearance of Genital Warts

Genital warts usually present themselves in clusters or groups. They can appear to be flat and have the color of the flesh (flesh-colored) or it may bear a bumpy resemblance to cauliflower. Once present, they can cause itching, burning or just general discomfort.

2. Precancerous changes - These may be observe when a woman's pap smear test comes back as being abnormal.

3. Cervical Cancer - HPV virus has been recognized as one of the major contributors to the development of cervical cancer. Scientists have separated the over 100 HPV viruses into two groups, low-risk HPV and high-risk HPV. High-risk HPV refers to the strains of HPV virus that are likely to develop into cancers, while the low-risk HPV refers to those that is unlikely to develop into cancer.

HPV Related Cancer in Women

Aside from cervical cancer, women infected with HPV may develop the following types of cancers:

* Vaginal cancer.

* Vulvar cancer.

* Anal cancer.

* Oropharyngeal cancers that include cancers at the back of throat (at the base of the tongue and tonsils).

It is important to note that some women may never develop any of these symptoms. Those with low-risk types of genital warts may never develop any form of symptoms that would indicate to them that they may need medical attention.

Detecting the HPV Virus in Women

The presence of the HPV virus in women is usually detected from a pap smear test. It is for this reason that women are urged to have their annual pap smears done. Once the test results appear abnormal, a further test will be done on the woman's cervix to determine if the changes are due to the presence of the HPV virus.

HPV Prevention

The three main ways of preventing HPV are through:

  • Abstinence
  • Use of condoms
  • HPV vaccination - Three shots given over a period of six months.

HPV Vaccine



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