HPV or human papillomavirus is one of the most frequently occurring sexually transmitted diseases. There are over 200 different types of high or low risk. The degree of risk is estimated by their ability to cause cancer or other lesions.
Most HPV infections do not lead to cancer. High-risk HPV types, also called oncogenic, can most commonly cause cervical cancer in women, in case of no recession by the immune system and less often to vulvar or vaginal cancer. Low-risk types can sometimes cause genital warts, which are not some form of cancer.
Types 16 and 18 are the most frequently diagnosed and are responsible for about 75% of cervical cancers and about 55% of high-grade precancerous lesions at the same site. Types 6 and 11 are the most common among benign types and account for about 90% of genital warts.
Sexual intercourse is the most common way of transmitting these viruses.
The progression of HPV infection is not the same in all women. On average, however, the time from first contact with the virus to cancer is between 9 and 15 years. The precancerous lesions, however, appear earlier. Grade 1 precancerous lesions can be identified after 4 months, while Grade 2 precancerous lesions are most commonly observed after an average of 14 months.
The virus has no symptoms and cannot be detected, unless the genital warts develop. Genital warts are soft, fleshy skin-colored lesions most commonly found in the vagina, external genitalia, anus, and cervix. The absence of genital warts in the vulva and the presence of an asymptomatic HPV infection in the cervix is the most common scenario.
The Pap test can detect HPV, as well as the subsequent effects of the virus. The most common lesions it causes are low-grade intraepithelial lesions, rarely high-grade intraepithelial lesions and very rarely cancers.
The most critical time for a woman to initially develop an HPV infection is from adolescence to about 25 years of age. During this time, the majority of women begin their sexual intercourse and the morphology of the cervix constitutes the infection easier.