7 Ways to Protect Yourself from HPV and Cervical Cancer

7 Ways to Protect Yourself from HPV and Cervical Cancer

HPV is also known as Human papillomavirus. This is a super-common virus causing infections for the human reproductive system. Most people who are sexually active will be infected with the virus at some point in their lives. Some may experience recurrent infections. There are many types of HPV and most of them do not cause problems. They usually clear up on their own within 2 years. But some certain types can persist and develop into cancer. Cervical cancer is the most common HPV- related cancer in women. Here is everything you need to know about HPV and cervical cancer. And, how to protect yourself from getting these infections.

HPV and cervical cancer: what should you know about?

1. Causes and types

HPV is categorized into 2 groups: low-risk HPV and high-risk HPV. Low-risk HPVs cannot cause cancer but they can cause genital warts. HPV types 6 and 11 are the most common types that are linked to 90 percent of genital warts. High-risk HPVs can cause abnormal cell changes on the genitals. Over time, if not removed, they can develop into cancer.

Cervical cancer is most frequently caused by HPV type 16 and 18. These types can cause precancerous lesions. If untreated, they can progress into cervical cancer. Usually, it takes 15 to 20 years for the cancer to develop. But for those with weakened immune systems, this progression can take only 5 to 10 years.

There are two main types of cervical cancer. They are Squamous cell carcinoma and Adenocarcinoma. Squamous cell carcinoma usually affects the middle and outer layer of the skin. Adenocarcinoma, on the other hand, starts in the glands that line the cervical canal.

2. Signs and symptoms

HPV does not present symptoms. But when they do occur, you will notice the following changes.

  • Abnormal growths on the genitals, called genital warts
  • Irregular vaginal bleeding, especially between periods, after intercourse or after menopause
  • Back, leg or pelvic pain
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Vaginal discomfort
  • Watery, bloody discharge
  • Loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue

At advanced stages, more severe symptoms will occur.

Signs of cervical cancer

Signs of cervical cancer

3. Risk factors

HPV can persist and develop to cervical cancer. There are many reasons for this, including:

  • Early first sexual intercourse. Having sex at an early age can put you at high risk for HPV infections.
  • Multiple sexual partners. The more sexual partners, the higher chance of getting HPV.
  • A weak immune system. If your immune system is weakened, you will be more likely to develop cervical cancer.
  • Tobacco use. Smoking can increase your risk of HPV and cervical cancer.
  • Other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Having another STD can put you at higher risk of HPV. These STDs can be HIV/AIDS, syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia.

If you suspect you are at risk of HPV and cervical cancer. See your doctor to get tested.

4. Diagnosis

To diagnose HPV infections, a doctor can look at your warts. If they are not visible, the following tests can help.

  • Vinegar test. This method uses acetic acid to check if there is a wart that is difficult to see. If yes, the infected area will turn white.
  • Pap test. This test helps identify abnormalities that can lead to cancer on the cervix or vagina.
  • HPV DNA test. This test helps recognize the DNA that has been infected with HPV. Often, it is recommended for women aged 30 or older, or for those with an abnormal Pap test.

Other tests that can help detect cervical cancer include:

  • Punch biopsy
  • Endocervical curettage
  • Cone biopsy
  • Electrical wire loop

Read more: There’s No HPV Test for Men- Why Is That?

Cervical cancer stages

Cervical cancer stages

5. Treatment

Genital warts caused by low-risk HPV can be treated with antiviral drugs. These include:

  • Vidarox cream (over-the-counter)
  • Trichloroacetic acid (TCA)
  • Podophyllin and podofilox (Condylox)
  • Imiquimod (Aldara, Zyclara)
  • Sinecatechins (Veregen)

If you have larger warts, surgery can be more effective. These are:

  • Cryotherapy
  • Electrocautery
  • Surgical excision
  • Laser treatment

Treatment for cervical cancer may depend on your stage and your health problem. It includes:

  • Surgery, such as simple or radical hysterectomy
  • Radiation: internally, externally, or both internally and externally
  • Chemotherapy

Read more: What Will Happen if HPV Goes Untreated?

How to protect yourself from HPV and cervical cancer

1. Get regular Pap tests

Be sure that both you and your partner get tested for STDs before having sex. For all women, Pap smears are a must. Doctors suggest women who have had sex get this test every 3 years.

Read more: How Can I Ask My Partner to Get STD Tested?

2. Get vaccinated

Vaccines can help protect yourself from HPV and cervical cancer. Doctors recommend all girls and women get the vaccine before sexual activity. Gardasil is the best vaccine to prevent HPV types that cause genital warts and cancer.

3. Practice abstinence

The best way to avoid getting HPV is to refrain from sexual activity.  

4. Always use condoms

Condoms are not 100% effective because the virus can be passed on the skin not covered by condoms. But this is one of the best ways to protect you from HPV infections.

5. Have one or few partners

As mentioned above, having multiple sexual partners can increase your risk of HPV. So only engage in sex with one person. And, both should get tested before intercourse if your partner has sex with someone else.

6. Avoid direct contact

HPV is highly contagious and the virus can be passed through skin contact. So do not have sexual contact with a person you don’t know about their sexual history. And avoid oral kissing or touching their warts.

Read more: Can Genital Warts Spread to Other Areas of The Body?

7. Adopt a healthy lifestyle

A healthy lifestyle is important to protect yourself from HPV and cervical cancer. It helps boost your immune system to fight the virus naturally. To do this, you should eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, consume vitamins and minerals. Also, exercise regularly and avoid smoking and drinking.

Read more: Cervical Cancer Prevention and Your Diet

HPV is now at an all-time high. If you suspect you have the disease, consult a doctor for help. To avoid getting the virus and prevent cervical cancer, follow the seven tips above. I hope those information will be helpful for you.

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