The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common infection affecting about 1 in 4 people in the United States.
The virus, which spreads through skin-to-skin or other intimate contact (like direct sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, or oral sex), will often go away on its own. But certain strains can cause cervical cancer.
At this time, there isn’t a cure for HPV, though its symptoms can be treated. Some types of HPV go away on their own.
There are also vaccines available to prevent infection with high risk strains.
These can appear as flat lesions, tiny stem-like lumps, or small cauliflower-like bumps. Although they may itch, they generally don’t cause pain or discomfort.
Genital warts on people with vaginas typically occur on the vulva but could also appear inside the vagina or on the cervix. In penis-owners, they appear on the penis and scrotum.
People with vaginas and penises 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 the 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.
- Oropharyngeal warts. These are lesions of various shapes and sizes that can occur on the tongue, cheek, or other oral surfaces. They’re generally not painful.
Other strains of HPV can increase the risk of developing cancer, especially in people who have weakened immune systems.
In most cases, HPV infections won’t show symptoms and will clear up on their own. But two strains, HPV-16 and HPV-18, are the two main causes of cervical lesions and cancer, though other strains can still cause 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’s reached a later stage. Advanced symptoms of cervical cancer include:
- irregular bleeding, bleeding between periods, or abnormal vaginal bleeding after 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:
There’s no cure for HPV. But most cases of it will go away on their own. If you contract HPV you should still make an appointment with a doctor. They’ll be able to treat your symptoms and ask you to come in for repeat testing in a year to see if the HPV infection persists.
During this testing, if any cell changes have developed, they’ll decide if these need further follow-up. HPV can be diagnosed during a vaginal or anal pap smear.
HPV is not curable, but warts, which are a side effect of HPV, can be. Some warts will go away on their own, but you should still see a doctor to determine the best course of treatment. Treatments for the different types of warts can range from cryotherapy or electrosurgery to over-the-counter (OTC) medication to topical creams.
If precancerous or cancerous cells are discovered in the cervix, your doctor may 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, like on the penis, the same options for removal can be used.
Active hexose correlated compound (AHCC)
Preliminary testing and clinical trials show that a shiitake mushroom extract, better known as active hexose correlated compound (AHCC), may be able to cure HPV. But natural treatments like this one used to treat HPV still need more research.
A 2014 pilot study explored the effects of AHCC extract on clearing HPV from the body. AHCC is a natural nutritional supplement derived from part of the shiitake mushroom that’s often used in combination with other nutritional ingredients to boost immunity.
The trial using AHCC produced mixed results. Of the 10 women studied, 3 appeared to clear the virus, while 2 experienced declining virus levels. The remaining 5 women were unable to clear the infection.
The study progressed into phase 2 of clinical trials in 2015 and concluded in 2019. Phase 2 also produced
A confirmatory phase 2 study is ongoing.
Folate (vitamin B9)
Folate is a vitamin commonly associated with cervical health. It primarily helps make and repair DNA and produce red blood cells (RBCs). You typically get enough folate from your food, where it’s most commonly found in dark green leafy vegetables.
According to a
Vitamin C has a lot of important jobs in the body, but it’s probably most well-known for helping the immune system. A
Overall, natural treatments for HPV still need more research. But there are other ways to treat and prevent HPV.
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
- cryotherapy, 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.
Treatments for genital warts
Genital warts shouldn’t be treated with OTC products. Depending on the type and location of the wart, a doctor may recommend:
- cryotheraphy, which uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the warts
- electrocautery, which uses electrical currents to burn away warts
- laser or light therapy, which involves using a targeted beam to remove unwanted tissue
- surgical removal using local anaesthetic
Treatment for common warts
Common warts can be treated with OTC salicylic acid products. But don’t use these same products on any warts in the genital area. Depending on the wart, surgical intervention may be necessary.
A doctor may prescribe one of the following medications to treat common warts:
- imiquimod (like Aldara or Zyclara)
- podofliox (like Condylox)
- trichloroacetic acid
Treatments for flat warts
Flat warts will usually disappear on their own, but you may want to seek treatment to speed up the process.
If you decide to treat your flat warts, your doctor may prescribe a topical cream. These creams are irritants and cause the skin to peel, which removes warts. Prescriptive creams may include:
- retinoic acid 0.05 percent cream, known as tretinoin (AVITA, Refissa, Retin-A, Tretin-X)
- Imiquimod 5 percent cream (Aldara, Zyclara)
- Topical 5-fluorouracil (Carac, Efudex, Fluoroplex, Tolak), 1 percent or 5 percent cream
Treatments for oropharyngeal warts
Oropharyngeal warts, or warts on your tongue, will go away over time without treatment. But this could take months or years, depending on warts.
If you want to speed the process up, you can speak to your doctor, dentist, or dermatologist about treatment options for persistent warts. One option they may suggest is cryotherapy or electrosurgery.
How can I prevent HPV?
One way to prevent HPV is to practice safe sex and use condoms.
The Gardasil 9 vaccine is another method of prevention that helps prevent genital warts and cancers caused by HPV. The vaccine can protect against nine types of HPV associated with cancer or genital warts.
The CDC recommends that the HPV vaccine be administered routinely in preteens around 11 or 12 years old. Two doses of the vaccine are given at least 6 months apart. This ensures that they’re protected against HPV before they’re likely to have exposure to the virus.
Women and men ages 15 to 26 can also get vaccinated on a three-dose schedule. Since 2018, people between the ages of 27 and 45 who’ve not been previously vaccinated for HPV are
Another way to prevent HPV is to get regular check-ups, screenings, and pap smears.
Who should get tested for HPV?
A doctor will only recommend people with vaginas between the ages of 21 and 29 for an HPV test if they have an abnormal pap smear.
Instead, people with vaginas who are between the ages of 21 and 29 should get regular pap smears. While pap smears don’t detect HPV, they can show any abnormal cervical cells, which are a significant symptom of the HPV infection.
If the pap smear comes back abnormal, your doctor will decide if an HPV test is needed. If you have a history of HPV or previous cancerous or precancerous lesions, your doctor may run an HPV test alongside a pap smear.
Vagina owners aged 30 to 65 should get an HPV test every 5 years alongside a pap smear.
There’s currently no HPV test for people with penises. But penis owners with an HPV infection can transmit the virus without knowing it.
Some doctors will do an anal pap test on people with a penis, but these are usually only performed on penis owners who are HIV-positive and have had anal sex.
Doctors can also run an HPV test during an anal pap smear, but it isn’t recommended because the test may not be sufficient in detecting HPV.
How can I get tested for HPV at home?
Although at-home testing kits for HPV are available, they’re relatively new, and they don’t detect all strains of the virus and only detect specific strains. They’re also not FDA-approved.
An at-home HPV testing kit can provide a more discreet way for someone to test for HPV in their own privacy. They can be purchased online starting at $90.
Follow the instructions on the kit for collecting a sample and ship it off to the lab when you’re done. If your test is positive, you should follow up with your doctor.
HPV is a common infection that usually goes away on its own. Certain strains of HPV can develop into something much more serious, like cervical cancer.
There are currently no medical or natural treatments for the virus, but its symptoms are treatable.
If you have HPV, it’s important to practice safe sex methods to prevent transmission. If you haven’t tested positive for HPV, you should still get routinely screened and tested for the virus and associated cervical cancers.