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What is Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease/infection (STD) transmitted through skin-to-skin contact or sexual intercourse. It is generally harmless and, in most cases, goes away on its own. However, some types can lead to certain types of cancer and genital warts.
There are more than 200 types of HPV--about 40 of these types infect your genital area, mouth, and throat and are spread through sexual contact. The other types can cause common warts that appear on your hands, feet, and face; these are not sexually transmitted.
Common Types of HPV
HPV is commonly categorized as either low-risk or high-risk, depending on the type you contract.
There are two types of HPV that cause the most cases of genital warts. Types 6 and 11 are considered ‘low-risk HPV,’ as they don’t lead to cancer or other serious health issues.
There are over ten types of HPV that can lead to cancer; however, two specific types lead to a majority of cancer cases. Types 16 and 18 are considered high-risk HPV and most commonly cause cervical cancer. These types can also cause cancer in the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, mouth, and throat.
HPV Vs. Genital Warts
Genital warts are mostly harmless growths that can appear on the skin of your vulva, vagina, cervix, penis, scrotum, or anus. These growths are usually small, soft, fleshy bumps that sometimes resemble little pieces of cauliflower. Even though genital warts can be unsightly and annoying, they are usually painless and can typically be removed by a medical professional.
The main difference between HPV and genital warts is that HPV can cause cancer depending on the type you have, whereas common genital warts do not cause cancer.
Causes of HPV
HPV is caused and spread by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone infected with HPV and can be spread even if the person infected shows no signs or symptoms. Anyone who has chosen to be sexually active can get HPV. Some people don’t develop symptoms until years after having sex with someone who’s infected, making it difficult to know when you were first infected.
HPV infection occurs when the virus enters your body, usually through a cut or small tear in your skin. The virus is primarily spread by skin-to-skin contact.
You can also spread an HPV infection with genital warts to your baby while pregnant. Rarely, the infection can cause noncancerous growth in the baby's voice box.
It is important to remember that warts are extremely contagious. They can spread through direct contact with a wart and can also spread when someone touches something that already touched a wart. It is recommended that if you're using a shared bathing facility, such as a gym shower, that you wear shoes at all times.
Symptoms of HPV
There are no pre-signs or symptoms of HPV, which is one reason many people are unaware they are actually infected with the virus and don’t get treatment until it’s too late. The most common symptom of HPV is warts, including genital warts, common warts, plantar warts, and flat warts.
In most cases, your immune system can stave off an HPV infection before it creates warts; however, if warts do appear and they are causing you to feel embarrassed, discomfort, or pain, it is recommended that you make an appointment with your doctor or seek medical advice from an online doctor if you’d rather not leave the comfort of your home.
Treatment for HPV
Sadly, there is no treatment for HPV itself, but there are treatments for the health issues that HPV can cause, such as genital warts or cervical cancer.
You can also consider getting the HPV vaccine that will help prevent you from getting the virus.
There are now many companies, such as EverlyWell that offer at-home-lab-testing that will test for the presence of high-risk types of HPV.
Treatment for Genital Warts
Genital warts can be treated by your Primary Care Physician or an online doctor with prescription medication, such as Valtrex. It is possible that genital warts will go away on their own if left untreated, but they could also stay the same or grow in size.
Treatment for Cervical Precancer
Getting regular pap smears from your gynecologist is the best way to identify any problems before cancer is able to develop. During a routine pap, your healthcare provider will test your vaginal sample for HPV types 16 and 18 to determine if you are at risk for cervical cancer.
This vaccine helps protect you against certain types of HPV that can lead to cancer or genital warts. The HPV vaccine (Gardasil 9) can help protect against:
HPV Types 16 and 18, which are said to cause 80% of cervical cancer cases.
HPV Types 6 and 11 - the two types that cause 90% of genital warts.
HPV Types 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58 - all of which can lead to cancer of the cervix, anus, vulva, vagina, or throat.
The vaccine is available for people ages 9-45 and is given in either two or three doses depending on your age.
People between 9 and 14 years old need two shots, and people between the ages of 15 and 45 need three.
It is recommended that all children get the vaccine at age 11 or 12, so they are completely protected many years before they become sexually active.
Companies like EverlyWell offer you the ability to take an at-home test that will screen for HPV and confirm the presence of high-risk types (16, 18, and 45). giving you insight into your risk of getting cervical cancer.
These tests are affordable and convenient, allowing you to be in the comfort of your own home and not have to make an appointment and wait in your doctor's office.
Types of HPV Tests
There are two ways to get an HPV test, including visiting a lab for a blood draw and ordering an at-home HPV test kit. Both provide accurate results when it comes to detecting the presence of high-risk types of HPV, one you can simply take at home while the other requires an in-person lab appointment (and potentially a specialist referral).
At-Home HPV Test
Most at-home HPV tests are for women only and require a vaginal swab sample. Simply collect the vaginal sample according to the instructions, mail your sample to the lab, and get the results in a few days.
Lab technicians measure each sample to determine if it contains HPV Types 16 and HPV 18/45 (high-risk HPV types that commonly cause cancer).
Companies such as EverlyWell and LetsGetChecked evaluate your sample and will tell you whether or not you test positive for high-risk types of HPV that are associated with an increased risk of developing cervical cancer. The EverlyWell test specifically screens for 14 high-risk HPV strains (16, 18, 31, 33, 35, 39, 45, 51, 52, 56, 58, 59, 66, and 68).
When you receive your results, you will be able to consult with one of the companies licensed medical professionals for the next steps.
Your doctor may recommend getting a lab test (especially if you are suffering from discomfort or painful warts). The lab will collect a vaginal sample and analyze it to detect certain types of HPV.
Before heading to a lab, you’ll probably need to get a referral from your doctor. You’ll need to make an in-person appointment with your general practitioner or an appointment with an online doctor. After ruling out other conditions, your doctor will provide a referral to a local lab and testing site. Simply make an appointment at the labs, show up for your swab sample collection, and contact your doctor for your results.
How to Take an At-Home HPV Test
At-home-testing-kits require a bodily fluid sample, such as blood, urine, or spit. Most HPV tests ask for a vaginal swab sample, as this is most likely to give the most accurate measurement.
How many at-home HPV tests work in three easy steps:
Order your kit online--it will be delivered directly to your doorstep a couple of days later
Collect your sample at home, then mail it to a certified lab for analysis
Get your results and actionable next steps
Is HPV Testing Secure?
HPV testing is extremely secure. Companies like EverlyWell are HIPAA compliant and store data securely with bank-grade encryption software to ensure you’re the only one that knows about your diagnosis.
Companies do not sell, share, or exchange your information. Most companies do not label vials or samples with patient names — only barcodes and serial numbers.
If you suspect you have HPV, you should get tested as soon as possible. The sooner you know what’s causing your symptoms, the sooner you can start treatment. At-home test kit companies have made it very easy to get tested from the comfort of your own home.