HPV / Genital Warts (continued)
- Testing: Once a woman becomes sexually active, or by age 18, she should get an annual Pap smear to detect any abnormal changes in the cervix. Pap smears are the first line of defense against the HPV family of viruses, which is typically without symptoms. If your Pap test comes back abnormal, your doctor will likely order a second one to confirm the results. A cervical DNA swab test can also be performed to identify which specific HPV virus you have (only a few types of HPV have been linked to cervical cancer and these are usually not the ones that cause genital warts). If HPV is found, a colposcopy -- a test that examines the tissues of the vagina and cervix using a magnifying lens -- is usually ordered.
- Treatment: There is no cure for HPV, so treatment aims at controlling outbreaks of warts -- if you have a strain that causes visible warts. If a woman is diagnosed with certain strains of HPV, her doctor may suggest a biopsy of cervical tissue to check for signs of cancer. It is important to note that many women with HPV do not get cervical cancer, but HPV infection is an important risk factor for the disease. Further treatment varies widely depending on what your doctor learns from a colposcopy, DNA testing, and/or a biopsy of cervical tissue.
To treat visible genital warts, there are several chemicals that can be directly applied. Some are prescribed for use at home, others may cause discomfort and must only be used under a doctor's supervision, and some may not be used during pregnancy. Genital warts also may be removed using cryotherapy (freezing), burned off with electrocauterization, or removed with surgery or lasers. In at least 30 percent of treated cases, the warts grow back again.