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HPV: Genital Warts and Cancer Risk

HPV, the Human Papilloma Virus, was first identified in the late 70s.  Over the last 40 years, HPV has been identified as the cause of the most common sexually transmitted disease, genital warts.  Current estimates suggest that 1 in 5 people carry an active HPV infection, and that every person is exposed to HPV at least once in their life.

While we talk about HPV as single disease, it is actually group of 130 related viruses.  Each virus is able to infect our skin or mucus membranes and causes abnormal growths, or warts.  The different strains of HPV are able to infect specific sites of the body.  The virus that causes plantar warts is different from the virus that causes genital warts.

Unfortunately, there are about a dozen strains of HPV that cause genital warts. If person is exposed to a single strain and acquires immunity to it, there are still other varieties that can cause a similar infection.  There is also second group of HPV known as High-Risk HPV.  These strains of HPV can cause warts, but they are also associated with a variety of cancers.

Different HPV Strains

Genital warts: HPV 6, 11, 13, 40, 42, 43, 44, 54, 61, 72, 81 and 89
High-Risk: HPV 16, 18, 31, 33, 35, 39, 45, 52, 58 and 59

Infection with a strain of High-Risk HPV in now known to be a required first step in the development of cervical cancer.  This realization has caused researchers to look for High-Risk HPV in other types of cancer.  The majority of anal cancers show signs of infection with High-Risk HPV, as do some types of oral, esophageal and lung cancers.

Pap smears, a routine screening for cervical cancer, can identify the early changes associated with High-Risk HPV.  Depending on the result of a pap smear and the health of the woman, additional testing or treatment can be recommended.  Due to the role of High-Risk HPV in anal cancers, anal pap smears are starting to be recommended for men and women who have receptive anal sex, multiple sexual partners, or are HIV+.

Thankfully, our immune systems are very good at eliminating HPV.  On average, 90% of people will completely clear an HPV infection within two years without any assistance.  Surgical treatment, either cutting off or freezing the warts, can greatly speed up the process.  As the body heals from the surgery, the immune system cleans out any remaining infection.

For areas of the body, where surgery isn’t practical or desirable, there are a number of natural therapies that support our immune system’s ability to clear HPV.  Anti-viral herbs are able to prevent HPV from replicating or spreading to new cells, while targeted nutritional interventions can strengthen the part of our immune system that attacks HPV and infected cells.  Used together, anti-viral herbs and target nutritional therapies can typically clear HPV infections in 3-6 months.

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