Human Papilloma Virus (HPV, genital warts, anal/cervical dysplasia/cancer) : What is it?

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Human Papilloma Virus (HPV, genital warts, anal/cervical dysplasia/cancer)
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What is it?

Human papilloma virus (HPV) is spread via sexual activity. Nearly 40 million people in the United States are infected with HPV.

HPV can cause three different types of diseases, mostly in or around the genital area:

Warts: HPV can cause warts—small, raised, hard lumps that grow in clumps—to form in or around the vagina, anus, or the tip of the penis. Genital warts are sometimes called condylomata acuminata, or condylomas. Warts do not usually progress to cancer, but they can mean that pre-cancerous dysplasia is also present and should be looked for.
Dysplasia: Abnormal patches of cells found inside the anus or within the cervix (located at the lower end of the uterus, or womb), vagina and vulva (the labia and outer portion of the vagina). Unlike warts, dysplasia can't be felt or easily seen. Dysplasia is often referred to as a "pre-cancer" form of disease. Not all men or women with dysplasia go on to develop cancer.
Cancer (carcinoma): Dysplasia can develop into cancer. The four most common types of cancer caused by HPV are cervical cancer, anal cancer, rectal cancer, and penile cancer. HPV can also cause head and neck cancers, such as those involving the mouth or throat. If not diagnosed and treated early, these forms of cancer can be life-threatening.

HIV-positive people are more likely to be infected with HPV than HIV-negative people. HIV+ people are also more likely to develop genital warts, as well as cervical or anal cancer, and head and neck cancer, as a result of HPV. Unlike some types of cancers, whose rates have gone down since the introduction of potent combination antiretroviral therapy, anal and head/neck cancer rates have gone up and cervical cancer rates have stayed essentially unchanged. Researchers have stated that this is due, in part, to the fact that people are living much longer, but with imperfectly preserved or restored immune systems. Research is underway, however, to better quantify a person's risk for developing HPV-related cancers.


Last Revised: January 06, 2011

This content is written by the POZ and AIDSmeds editorial team. For more information, please visit our "About Us" page.

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