Doctors have known for many years that HPV is strongly linked to the development of cervical cancer in women. The Papanicolaou smear, or Pap smear, test was developed to examine cervical cells, to look for changes that indicate HPV. When the Pap smear is positive, further steps can be taken to eradicate this disease.
Human papilloma virus can infect the cervical or anal area in both heterosexual and homosexual populations. The virus is spread by physical contact. New on the horizon is the growing incidence of anal HPV in both men and women.
Get a doctor’s evaluation and treatment
As in cervical infections, the anal form of the infection can be detected using an anal Pap smear. This exam is performed by a physician, gynecologist, or colon and rectal specialist. Knowledge of anal HPV infections is evolving rapidly, and consulting a colon and rectal specialist can help you get the most current diagnostic and treatment advice.
In women, a gynecologist may perform one of a variety of examinations and treatments. A conisation is an office procedure in which a gynecologist removes a rim of tissue from the cervix and has it examined under the microscope, looking for inflammation or malignant changes that indicate cancer. Often, this exam is all that is needed to resolve the infection. Further therapy can be instituted if necessary. Regular follow-up examinations are vitally important to look for recurrences or new infections.
If an anal infection is suspected, or if you simply want peace of mind, an anal Pap smear can be performed by a colon and rectal specialist. If there are signs of inflammation or infection, an anal biopsy under light anesthesia is performed as an outpatient procedure. More extensive anal mapping with a high-resolution anoscopy may be required. This is administered under light anesthesia using a special microscope to target suspicious areas. As in cervical disease, this may be the only procedure necessary. However, further treatment in the form of topical medications may be necessary. Regular long-term follow-up is recommended.
Encourage testing, immunisation and prevention
An HPV infection may lead to the development of cervical or anal cancer. Regular examinations are an important part of the cure in sexually active men and women, regardless of age.
Gardasil® is a vaccine that immunises against the four most worrisome variants of HPV associated with the development of cancer. The immunisation should be given at the onset of puberty and sexual activity in girls. Although controversial, Gardasil is probably also effective when given to young men.
Once sexual activity begins, the likelihood of being infected with these strains of HPV rises, and the immunizations may not be effective. Consult your physician for more details. Encourage others to get tested. Prevention is the best cure.
Tips and warnings
- Prevention of HPV is the best way to avoid an HPV infection. Safe sex is an important part of prevention. Gardasil® is effective at immunizing sexually active females and probably males, against the four worrisome strains of HPV. Regular check-ups and Pap smears by a gynecologist or colon and rectal specialist are important. Education is a must.