The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common infection affecting one in four people in the United States. The virus, which spreads through skin-to-skin contact, will often go away on its own, although certain strains can cause cervical cancer. At this time, there isn’t a cure for HPV, though its symptoms can be treated.
How does HPV present?
Warts are the most common symptom of HPV infections. For some people, this may mean genital warts. These can appear as flat lesions, tiny stemlike lumps, or as small cauliflowerlike bumps. Although they may itch, they generally don’t cause pain or discomfort.
Genital warts on women occur on the vulva, but could also appear inside the vagina or on the cervix. On men, they appear on the penis and scrotum. Both men and women can have genital warts around the anus.
Although genital warts may be the first type of wart to come to mind, this isn’t always the case. You may also experience:
- Common warts: These rough, raised bumps appear on hands, fingers, or elbows. They may cause pain and are sometimes prone to bleeding.
- Flat warts: These dark, slightly raised lesions can occur anywhere on the body.
- Plantar warts: These hard, grainy lumps can cause discomfort. They generally occur on the ball or heel of the foot.
In most cases, HPV infections won't show symptoms and will clear up on their own. But two strains, HPV-16 and HPV-18 can cause precancerous cervical lesions and cervical cancer. Depending on the state of your immune system, this can take 5 to 20 years to develop.
Cervical cancer is generally asymptomatic until it has reached a later stage. Advanced symptoms of cervical cancer include:
- irregular bleeding, bleeding between periods, or abnormal vaginal bleeding post-sex
- leg, back, or pelvic pain
- vaginal pain
- foul smelling discharge
- weight loss
- loss of appetite
- a single swollen leg
HPV can also lead to cancers that affect the following areas of the body:
Natural treatments for HPV symptoms
At this time, there aren’t any medically supported natural treatments for symptoms of HPV. One 2014 study did explore the effects of shiitake mushroom extract on clearing HPV from the body, but it produced mixed results. Of the 10 women in the pilot study, three appeared to become clear the virus and two experienced declining virus levels. The remaining five women were unable to become clear of the infection.
Traditional treatments for HPV symptoms
Although there isn’t a cure for HPV, there are treatments for the health problems that HPV can cause.
Many warts will clear up without treatment, but if you prefer not to wait, you can have them removed by the following methods and products:
- topical creams or solutions
- cyrotherapy, or freezing and removing the tissue
- luster therapy
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all-approach for wart removal. The best option for you will depend on several factors, including the size, number, and location of your warts.
If precancerous or cancerous cells are discovered in the cervix, your doctor will remove them in one of three ways:
- surgical conization, which involves removing a cone-shaped piece of tissue
- loop electrosurgical excision, which involves removing the tissue with a hot wire loop
If precancerous or cancerous cells are discovered in other areas of the body, such as on the penis, the same options for removal can be used.
The bottom line
HPV is a common infection that usually goes away on its own. Certain strains of HPV can develop into something much more serious, such as cervical cancer. There are no medical or natural treatments for the virus, but its symptoms are treatable. If you have HPV, it's important to use protection during sex to prevent transmission. You should also get routinely screened for cancer.