Roughly 80% of sexually active women will have human papillomavirus, or HPV, in their lifetime, and most may never know it. But if left undetected, it can lead to HPV type cancers. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States.
What is Human Papillomavirus
There are over 140 types of HPV viruses. Each HPV virus is given a number which is called its HPV type. At least 40 HPV types can cause warts or lesions that appear on your genitals or anus. However, most HPV types are HPV-related cancers.
In women, HPV infection can lead to cervical, vaginal, and vulvar type cancers. But there are vaccines which are explained later in this article, that can prevent infection with HPV types that most commonly cause cancer, if you choose to do this.
Many people who have HPV don’t even know it. That is because most HPV infections have no symptoms that can be seen or felt. HPV is transmitted through intimate contact with an infected person even if they are not showing any signs or symptoms. You can develop HPV symptoms years after having sexual contact with an infected person. This can make it difficult to know which sexual partner gave you HPV, but you can look for signs of possible infection.
HPV in Women
Most of the time, the infection resolves on its own and the signs of HPV in women may not be apparent or cause any health problems. However, when the infection is not cleared by the immune system, it may not go away. HPV in women may lead to health problems such as warts or cancer with some common signs.
Genital Warts (infection with low-risk viruses):
- Wart eruptions appear on the mucosal membranes covering the lining of the vulva, vagina, anus or groin
- The tissues will show small bumps or clusters of bumps
- Warts range in size and appearance, may be raised or flat, “cauliflower” shaped, and white or fleshed tone
- Itching, burning or pain irritation may appear at the location of the warts or lesions
HPV Cancers (infection with high-risk viruses):
- Cervical cancer (more common)
- Cancer of the vagina, vulva, anus or groin
- Cancer in the back of the throat, the base of the tongue or tonsils (less common)
Generally, women are less likely to have oral infection when compared to men.
Dealing with HPV is medically challenging enough but it can also take an emotional toll on relationships. The better educated you are, the easier it is to communicate clearly what your current or future sex partner needs to know.
How do you know if you have HPV?
Most women with HPV have no signs of infection and many women never know they had an infection. But HPV often causes genital warts and abnormal growths on the cervix that can be cervical cancer markers. The only way to really know if you have HPV is to be tested.
And it is important to note that HPV is not caused by vaginal yeast infections, but you can have both at some point so again, testing is important to make a determination.
Yeast infections are mostly all caused by Candida yeast cells and while super uncomfortable, do not have the same serious risks as HPV.
How do you get HPV?
HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact. Women get HPV from sexual contact with someone who has it and it can be spread by vaginal, anal, oral or hand/genital sexual contact. Someone who is infected but has no visible signs can still spread HPV to others. You can be infected with more than one type of HPV and long-term sexual partners with HPV often have the same HPV types. The widespread statistics show that sexually active men and women will likely get genital HPV at some time in their lives.
Sometimes, HPV can be transmitted during birth to an infant causing genital or respiratory system infections.
The risks of genital HPV infections are increased by:
- becoming sexually active at a young age
- having multiple sex partners
- having a medical condition that lowers immunity like cancer or HIV/AIDS
- risk can also be higher in those taking medication that weakens the immune system
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For many women, the most significant part of their annual physical is the “pap smear” which is the longest-running cancer screening done in the US.
Pap smears are done by collecting a cell sample from the cervix with a small brush to screen for cervical cancer and changes in the cervix that might turn into cancer. This sample can also be a way of detecting abnormal cells on the cervix caused by HPV.
It is important to note that not all abnormal pap smears mean you have cervical cancer. Only a small number of women who have one of the HPV strains that cause cervical cancer will ever actually develop the disease.
HPV Pap Smear
HPV tests are usually done to check DNA for a high-risk HPV infection in women. Like a Pap test, the test is done on a sample of cells collected from the cervix. There are many types of HPV, but high-risk ones left untreated can progress to serious abnormalities and may lead to cervical cancer over time.
There are three vaccines approved to protect against the spread of certain types of HPV viruses:
- Gardasil 9
The HPV vaccine called Gardasil was introduced in 2007 and is licensed by the FDA and approved by the CDC. The vaccine protects against two strains of the human papillomavirus, type 6 & 11. These two strain types are known to cause 90 percent of genital warts cases. Gardasil 9 protects against four types of infection, type 6, 11, 16, 18 and protects against five other high-risk types, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58 and several other cancer-causing HPV types.
While the data is promising there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the use of these vaccines because essentially it does not treat HPV, nor does it protect against all strains of the disease. And as with most conventional allopathic medications, some side effects are possible including dizziness, headaches, and fainting.
Even more controversial is that these vaccines which are recommended by numerous organizations including The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, advocate they be given to children between the ages of 11 and 14. While the intention of it is to protect children before they become sexually active, some parents feel this is too early to vaccinate a child for an STD and could also encourage teens to be more sexually promiscuous.
Bottom line is anyone between the ages of 11 and 26 is eligible to receive the vaccine but weighing the pros and cons and doing more research for your individual situations is obviously prudent.
In addition, Cervarix is a vaccine against certain types of HPV that cause about 70% of cervical cancer cases. These vaccinations should not be considered a substitute for regular screenings.
Unfortunately, none of these vaccines can prevent the spread of other STD sexually transmitted diseases. Nor do they treat existing viral diseases or infections.
Can you get rid of HPV?
There’s no cure for HPV, but there are plenty of things you can do to stay healthy and safe from risks. Boosting the immune system is one of the best ways to help get HPV under control.
Eating a diet rich in natural folic acid, high antioxidants and probiotics can help support the immune system. These foods include:
- citrus fruits
- green leafy vegetables
- Brussels sprouts
- peanut butter
- pumpkin seeds
- kombucha and kvass
- fermented vegetables
Raw is best and remember that soaking and sprouting nuts and seeds enhances their digestibility and allows greater absorption of nutritional content.
Studies show that natural folic acid has been found to reduce the severity of the infection and aid the cells in stopping viral replication. All women can support their own systems by simply adding adequate amounts of folate in the diet or choose a supplemental form of natural, NOT synthetic folate. I recommend L-5-MTHF™, Super Liquid Folate ™ or Ultra B12-Folate™.
Still under investigation is the use of Carrageenan, a compound which is derived from seaweed used in foods and products. It is believed that this compound inhibits the spread of the virus from oral infection. A product called PeriBiotic™ Toothpaste in spearmint or fennel flavor includes this compound. This toothpaste also contains a specific Lactobacillus strain that combats unhealthy strains of oral bacteria necessary for oral health.
Studies have shown that curcumin was helpful in managing HPV related tumors and has anticancer properties that downregulate tumor cell growth. Research has also shown that curcumin can be effective for cervical cancer prevention and treatment by helping to clear cervical HPV infection. I often recommend Curcum-Evail because it is well studied and a powerful supplement with extensive health benefits.
Treatment for HPV
There are no natural, home remedies, or other treatments that can cure genital warts or the HPV virus. Even removal of the warts does not prevent the recurrence of the virus.
However, there are things you can do to help your body clear the virus and lower your chances of it persisting and turning into cancer.
It is also a good idea to check these off your list of things to change to support your body:
Boost Your Immune System:
- Reduce stress levels: chronic stress has been proven to change blood flow to cervical tissue and affect its secretions
- Develop a clean lifestyle with less alcohol and smoking
- Participate in some form of regular exercise
As an added safeguard woman can take these important precautions:
- Avoid sex with anyone with visible signs of genital warts
- Get checked if you suspect any transmission with an infected person
- Sexually active women should practice safe sex with the use of condoms
- Have sex only with a partner who is monogamous
- Get regular screenings and Pap tests for early detection of cervical cancer and precancerous changes in the cervix
- Get checked immediately if you experience a persistent sore throat, mouth sores or painful swallowing that won’t go away
- Young women can get vaccinated against cervical cancer if they chose it is right for them
Finding out you have HPV can be confusing and often emotionally overwhelming, especially if you don’t have all the facts. CONTACT ME today and let’s look at some of the questions and answers most common about HPV.