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What is High-Risk HPV?

High-risk HPV (human papillomavirus) is a term used to describe over 30 strands of HPV that are most likely to cause cancer, especially cervical cancer. While there are over 100 strands of HPV, most of these are relatively harmless and resolve themselves. Without treatment, high-risk HPV can cause a host of medical issues. Testing for these strands is relatively painless; with vaccinations and safe sex practices, the chances of contracting this virus can be reduced. HPV has a much greater health effect on women, although it can occasionally cause some rare cancers in men.

HPV is considered the leading cause of cervical cancer in women. It can also cause cancer of the penis, throat, anus, vagina, and vulva. Most dangerous strands of HPV can be detected during a routine pap smear for women and coupled with a DNA test. When a routine pap smear, typically done once a year in otherwise healthy women, comes back with unusual results, a follow-up DNA test is carried out to check for HPV strands. This test is only designed to check for the 13 most common high-risk HPV viruses.

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While women are at the greatest health risk when they contract high-risk HPV, men are also at risk. Despite this fact, there is no routine screening method for straight men. Men with same sex partners can undergo an anal pap smear to test for the HPV strands that may cause cancer of the anus. There are no outward symptoms of high-risk HPV in either men or women, however. If genital warts are present, this typically means the HPV is low risk, and the body will clear the virus out of its system within two years with minimal adverse health issues.

HPV is contracted via genital contact. It can also be contracted through lesions in the skin, although this is typically rare. HPV has become so common all over the world that doctors estimate at least 50% of sexually active adults will contract either low-risk or high-risk HPV at some point in their life. The chances of contracting the more dangerous strands of HPV are much less than than 50%.

There are a few vaccines for both young women and men. While these do not protect against all high-risk HPV strands, they do protect against the most common strands that cause cervical cancer in women as well as the two strands that affect men. When these vaccines are given before a young adult becomes sexually active, the chances of contracting high-risk HPV can be significantly reduced. Using condoms during every single sexual encounter can also greatly reduce risk; there is still a chance of contraction, however, because skin-to-skin contact from the areas surrounding the genitals can also transmit the disease.

While there is technically no treatment for HPV itself, the lesions it causes in women that can convert into cancerous cells can be removed via surgery, cryotherapy, laser treatments, and electrocautery. For men, the only treatments available are those for the health issues themselves; i.e. cancers or genital warts. HPV in men, however, is unlikely to turn into cancer, although it is still a possibility. High-risk HPV, as well as its low risk counterparts, can remain dormant in the body for many years before it is detected.

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