HPV and Genital Warts

The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a group of over 100 types of viruses, some of which can cause cancer or Genital Warts. Genital Warts are small flat or bumpy growths in or around the penis, scrotum, vaginal or anal area. These can resemble small raspberries or cauliflowers. HPV viruses are often referred to as either low or high risk for causing cancer.

What are HPV and Genital Warts?

There are 14 high-risk types of HPV which have been found to increase your risk of cancer. The virus is a major cause of anal, throat and oesophageal (the tube that goes from the mouth to the stomach) cancers in both men and women, and Cervical (lower womb) Cancer in women. HPV types 16 and 18 are responsible for most cases of cancers caused by HPV.

Low-risk HPV types are the main cause of warts on or around the genitals or the anus. These types do not cause cancer. HPV types 6 and 11 are responsible for causing 90% of Genital Warts.

How common are HPV and Genital Warts?

HPV is the most common viral sexually transmitted infection (STI), with around 40% of sexually active people having the HPV virus. Cervical Cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women globally and about 95% of all cases are caused by HPV.

How can I catch HPV and Genital Warts?

HPV is very easily spread from one person to another through sexual contact with an infected person. This includes unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex. HPV can also be caught by sharing sex toys that are not sterile. It is possible to catch the infection even when you are practising safe sex. The virus can be spread even if you have no symptoms.

Can I catch HPV and Genital Warts without being sexually active?

You cannot catch Genital Warts by kissing, using communal toilet seats, or sharing objects like towels, cutlery, or cups.

Cervical Cancer usually develops from an HPV infection caught by having sexual contact. However, women can develop Cervical Cancer if they have never had sex, but the risk is low.

What are the signs and symptoms of HPV and Genital Warts in men?

Most people with HPV will not have any symptoms, so the only way to know if you are infected is to get tested. Many HPV growths can be hidden or invisible too. HPV symptoms in men include:

  • Changes in the skin, anus, mouth, or throat

  • Genital Warts

  • Small pink spots around the genital or rectal area

What are the signs and symptoms of HPV and Genital Warts in women?

Many HPV growths can be hidden or invisible and most people with HPV will not have any symptoms, so the only way to know if you have HPV is to get tested. HPV symptoms in women include:

  • Changes in the lining of the cervix

  • Abnormal tissue growth

  • Genital Warts

  • Unusual bleeding after sex

  • Pain during sex

  • Unpleasant-smelling vaginal discharge

  • Blood in your urine

Cervical Cancer symptoms include:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding

  • Changes to your vaginal discharge

  • Pain during sex

  • Pain in your lower back, lower stomach, or pelvis

When should I get tested for HPV and Genital Warts?

Regular testing is recommended to prevent you from passing the virus on to your partner(s). Men and women should consider getting tested on a regular basis so as to safeguard their sexual health and ensure they do not unintentionally pass on any infection to their sexual partners.

Women, unless advised otherwise by their doctor, should have cervical and HPV testing every 3-5 years. Some women may need to take these tests more often, your doctor will tell you if that is the case. If you have any Cervical Cancer symptoms, you may wish to take this test. You may wish to get tested if you have had unprotected sex, especially if this was with multiple partners. If you are woman who is Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) positive, you are at higher risk of catching HPV and may wish to be tested for your peace of mind.

How do I get tested for HPV and Genital Warts?

Better2Know allows you to choose your test. Our Sexual Health Advisory team can help you to select the best test(s) for you.

If you are worried about a particular lump or blemish, you can take a swab of it. Our Blemish Screen is recommended if you are unsure of what test to select as it also tests for other STIs causing external blemishes (Syphilis and Herpes).

If you are a woman who is worried about your cervical health, then we suggest you book an HPV and Papanicolaou (PAP) smear test. This test will require a swab and sample to be taken from your cervix (lower womb). Our test looks for any changes in the cells lining the cervix and for any HPV types that may be of current or future concern. Our test is suitable if you are over the age of 21 and/or worried about Cervical Cancer. If you are worried about Cervical Cancer, please contact our Sexual Health Advisory Team who will be happy to provide advice.

You should expect to receive your test results in just a few days after your sample arrives at our laboratory.

Take responsibility for your sexual health with Better2Know. Testing with Better2Know is easy, fast, and pain-free. You can book a test today with Better2Know by calling our Sexual Health Advisory team on the number above or online by clicking the Get Started button.

What are the risks if HPV and Genital Warts are left untreated?

If you fail to treat your HPV infection, you could develop cervical, penile, anal or a number of other types of cancer. Being infected with HPV also increases your chances of catching other STIs, such as HIV.

Untreated men are likely to pass on the virus to their sexual partner(s). Untreated HPV in women may develop into Cervical Cancer or cause early menopause. If Cervical Cancer is untreated, it will slowly spread out of the cervix, to the vagina and surrounding muscles that support the bones of the pelvis. You may also develop a build-up of fluid in the tissue known as lymphoedema, have kidney failure, or blood clots.

How can HPV and Genital Warts affect a pregnant person and their baby?

Genital Warts may be passed on to your baby during birth. Some babies will develop warts in their throat, which can be potentially life-threatening. Therefore, it is important to get tested regularly and treat the infection if needed.

Pregnant women often have larger Genital Warts due to pregnancy hormones. In rare cases, a doctor may suggest that you have a caesarean section (c-section), particularly if the Genital Wards are very large.

Most women diagnosed with Cervical Cancer during pregnancy have early-stage disease. Pregnancy does not affect cancer growth or spreading.

What do I do if I test positive for HPV and Genital Warts?

There is no cure for HPV, but the symptoms can be treated. Your immune system will normally clear the virus from your body in a couple of years.

You should avoid having unprotected sex for 6 months after treatment has finished, to minimise the risk of spreading HPV to any of your sexual partner(s). You should also tell any sexual partner(s) that you have tested positive so they can get tested and treated if needed.

Persistent HPV infections are recognised as a major cause of Cervical Cancer. So, if you do have a high risk HPV and/or abnormal smear test, you may be referred to a specialist for a test to take a closer look at your cervix (colposcopy).

At Better2Know we can arrange a private doctor’s appointment. If you prefer you can consult a doctor of your choice who will be able to advise you of any next steps needed.

How are HPV and Genital Warts treated?

If your test is positive, you will be referred to a specialist who will advise which follow-up tests and HPV treatment(s) are needed. There are no treatments that get rid of the virus completely. However, treatment can get rid of the visible signs of infection such as Genital Warts. Genital Warts are treatable, they can be removed using cryotherapy (infected cells are frozen off), lasers, or surgery. Treatment for Genital Warts may need to be repeated to remove the infected tissue fully, especially for large warts. There are also creams that your doctor may give you to remove warts, reduce any symptoms, and prevent them from coming back. Some people will fight the infection off naturally in a couple of years.

If your smear test has any abnormal cells, you should be offered more frequent PAP smears to monitor these cells. Your doctor will be able to tell you how often these will be, but it is normally done once a year. Cervical Cancer treatment can include radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and/or surgery depending on the stage of cancer.

At Better2Know we can arrange a private doctor’s appointment. If you prefer you can consult a doctor of your choice who will be able to advise you of any next steps needed.

Can HPV and Genital Warts come back?

You can be infected with HPV multiple times because there are different types of the virus. However, you can reduce your risk of catching HPV by:

  • Getting the HPV vaccine

  • Practising safe sex every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex

  • Ensuring you and any new sexual partner(s) test for STIs before having sex

In a lot of cases, treatment for Cervical Cancer works and stops the cancer from coming back. For some Cervical Cancers that are fast-growing or advanced, the chances of the cancer coming back are higher. If the Cervical Cancer does not go away after your first treatment, your doctor will discuss your options with you.

When can I have sex again after being treated for HPV and Genital Warts?

If you have received HPV or Genital Warts treatment, you should avoid having unprotected sex for another 6 months after treatment to minimise the risk of spreading HPV.

If you would like to, you can go back to a normal sex life within a few weeks of finishing radiotherapy or having surgery for Cervical Cancer.

How do I book an HPV and Genital Warts test?

Better2Know is the world’s leading provider of private sexual health testing services. We provide you with fast and accurate testing to give you peace of mind.

You can book a test today with Better2Know by calling our Sexual Health Advisory team on the number above. Our expert Patient Services staff will help you select the right test and book any follow-up appointments if requested. If you prefer to book your test online, you can do so by clicking the Get Started button above.

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