The number of women affected by HPV is on the rise. If you’re curious about whether you at risk of catching the infection, read on.
HPV is the abbreviation for Human Papillomavirus. It is a really common virus that affects humans through sexual contact. Every year there are millions of people who contract a strain of HPV. Almost every adult that is sexually active will catch the virus at some point during their lifetime as it is spread very easily through skin to skin contact and especially from sexual contact, including oral, vaginal and anal sex.
There are lots of different strains of HPV. Some cause no symptoms, others cause genital warts, and the most extreme cases cause precancerous lesions and cervical cancer. If you have a good immune system, your body will naturally resolve HPV within a couple of years in most cases.
Complications of HPV
Some strains of HPV cause genital warts. These are easily detected on visual examination of the genitals. They usually look like papules and appear on the vulva, in the vagina, on the cervix or around the anus. They often look like cauliflower-type growths but can be flat or raised, single or grouped. Usually, they itch but are generally painless.
When HPV causes cervical dysplasia, it causes cells to grow abnormally and become ‘precancerous’. This is detected by pap smears and often referred to as CIN, which stands for Cervical, Intraepithelial Neoplasia. These precancerous lesions can also appear in a woman’s genital tract as well as the cervix. As the cell abnormalities increase, they can become cancerous.
Cervical cancer is caused by two strains of Human Papillomavirus – HPV-16 and HPV-18 – and it is believed that 70% of incidences of cervical cancer and precancerous cells are caused by these two strains.
However, if women have regular pap smears and look after their immune system, the chance of an HPV strain developing into cancer is unlikely.
There is no cure for HPV at the moment but there are many treatments available for its symptoms. For example, genital warts can be treated with practices like cryotherapy. Cryotherapy is the name for any treatment which uses temperatures that are near-freezing or freezing to treat a problem. It is quite a new treatment and so it is not known how effective it might be long-term. However, this is a safe alternative treatment for many ailments like genital warts. Side effects-wise, it can be an unpleasant sensation.
Another treatment type is LEEP. This acronym means Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure. It is a treatment that prevents abnormal cells from developing into cervical cancer. It works by a small loop of electrical wire that removes abnormal cells. It takes around ten minutes to complete this procedure. Often, abnormal cells are removed surgically.
Other practices used are photodynamic therapy and laser surgery. Photodynamic therapy, often referred to as PDT, uses a photosensitizing agent (essentially a drug) and a specific type of light. When the photosensitizing agent is exposed to a determined light wavelength, it produces oxygen, which kills cells nearby. For cancer treatment, the drug is given intravenously into the bloodstream where it becomes absorbed by the body’s cells. However, this drug remains inside cancer cells for longer than cells that are normal. So, after injection, there is a wait of between 24 and 72 hours before the light treatment begins. This means that the drug has left normal cells but is still in cancer cells. When it is exposed to light, the photosensitizing agent absorbs light and releases oxygen, which kills cancer cells around it.
Laser surgery is another treatment used to treat cervical cancer. It is usually used for cancer that is in its earlier stages. During the procedure, a laser beam is directed at the cervix to burn abnormal cells. There is usually some mild discomfort not unlike menstrual cramps, during the procedure but local anesthesia is applied to the cervix surface beforehand.
HPV natural treatment
A healthy immune system will be of great benefit when it comes to beating HPV naturally. You can improve your immune system by
- Quitting smoking,
- Eating lots of fruit and vegetables
- Reducing your consumption of alcohol
- Drinking green tea
- Exercising so that you sweat
In 2014, Science News published a study that examined how shiitake mushroom extracts help to clear HPV from a person’s body. However, the results were very mixed. There were 10 women in the study, three became clear of HPV, 2 declined in their virus levels and the remaining 5 women were not able to get rid of the infection. Phase II of this clinical trial is now underway.
Another thing you can do is to change your contraceptive. If you take birth control pills, you will have a higher risk of HPV turning cancerous. So, if you have an HPV diagnosis, you need to see your doctor about switching birth control. The copper IUD is ideal as it doesn’t contain hormones, which is the reason why the pill is problematic.
In terms of vitamins, there are many that you can take to help boost your immune system. B vitamins are great, especially vitamin B12 and folic acid. In terms of dosage, you should try to include 1000mcg per day and the same for vitamin B12. Vitamin E is a great immune system booster too. The recommended dosage is 400iu but make sure the vitamin E is mixed tocopherols as these include both the gamma and the beta forms of vitamin E, which is what you need.