hpv - everything you need to know

Have you heard of HPV, but you’re not really sure what it is? You’re not alone. 

While many people have heard of HPV, there is a lack of information out there explaining exactly what it is, what risks it can pose to your health, and how it can affect your periods. 

So in this blog, let’s learn everything you need to know about HPV and how you can minimise your chances of getting it. 

what is hpv? 

HPV stands for human papillomavirus, and is a group of more than 150 viruses that can affect people of all genders. 

Are you wondering where the HPV virus can be found? HPV strains can be found all over your body - it just depends on which kind of strain your body has been infected with. 

Out of the 150, around 30 HPV strains can affect your genitals - and these are categorised as sexually transmitted infections (STI’s). 

In fact, HPV is the most common STI in the world. And while it can affect people of all genders, the prevalence of HPV is more common in women. 

In this blog, we’ll be focusing on HPV that are classified as STI’s. 

how is hpv transmitted?

One of the most common questions we get asked is how the HPV virus spreads

HPV can be transmitted through vaginal, anal or oral sex with an infected person. 

It is most commonly transmitted through vaginal or anal sex, and can also be passed on through skin-to-skin touch during sex. 

what are symptoms of hpv?

HPV can affect people of all genders and many people don’t even experience symptoms if it is a minor infection. In this case, the virus will often just go away on its own. 

However, you can also develop symptoms of HPV years after you’ve had sex with someone that is infected with HPV.  

If your HPV infection develops, the first and most common symptom will be to notice small bumps or warts on your body. 

If a wart shows up on your genitals, such as on your cervix, vulva, anus or rectum, then this strain of HPV is amongst the 30 that are categorised as an STI. 

These warts can be raised or flat, small or large, and some can appear to have a cauliflower-like texture.  

how can you detect hpv? 

HPV can be detected through various methods, including: 

  1. A visual exam where a healthcare professional will be able to identify warts on your genital areas which are caused by HPV
  2. A pap-smear test, where the doctor will collect cells from your cervix and examine them under a microscope to detect any abnormalities. 
  3. A HPV test, where cells collected from your cervix will be tested for HPV cells 

hpv and cervical cancer 

can hpv cause cancer? 

You may have heard about HPV in the context of cervical cancer. 

That’s because HPV is the most common cause of cervical cancer globally, and is estimated to cause cervical cancer for half a million women every year. 

But don’t worry! As long as the cancer is detected at an early stage, it can be treated. 

how does hpv cause cervical cancer? 

Certain strains of HPV, most likely types 16 and 18, can change the cells in your cervix which leads to abnormal growth of cells. This condition is called cervical dysplasia. 

If cervical dysplasia is left untreated, this can transition into cervical cancer over time. 

how fast can hpv cause cancer?

This is a tricky one because it can vary from person to person. 

On average it can take 10-20 years but in some cases women have been diagnosed with cervical cancer within 5 years of identifying a HPV strain in their cervix.

what are the symptoms of cancerous hpv? 

A few early symptoms of cervical cancer caused by HPV include abnormal vaginal bleeding between menstrual periods, excess discharge that has a strong odour, pain and bleeding during sex, and cramps in your pelvic region outside of your period. 

If you notice any of these symptoms, please consult a doctor and get tested to prevent any further complications.  

can hpv affect your menstrual cycle? 

HPV does not directly affect your periods as it is not related to your menstrual cycle. 

However, if HPV develops into cervical cancer, then you’ll notice changes in your period. This can include bleeding between periods, bleeding after menopause, unusual vaginal discharge, and heavier periods.

hpv prevention and treatment 

how can hpv be prevented?

The best way to prevent HPV from causing cervical cancer is to get the HPV vaccination before you are sexually active.  

This will protect you from exposure to any HPV strains that can cause HPV and cervical cancer. 

The spread of HPV can also be prevented through using condoms during sex. This is not only for penetrative sex, but also during oral and anal sex. 

when should i get the hpv vaccine? 

Ideally you should get the HPV vaccination before you are sexually active. You can get the vaccination as early as 9 years old. 

According to World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines for HPV vaccine, you should get one to two doses vaccine between the ages of 9 and 14 years old. 

If you are already sexually active or have had sexual partners, that’s okay! It is still worth getting the HPV vaccine to prevent any exposure from current or future sexual partners. 

To find out where to get the HPV vaccine, just visit your local gynaecologist to ask about the HPV vaccination. 

is hpv curable? 

Unfortunately there is no cure for HPV. 

But don’t worry, in 90% of cases the HPV strain leaves your body within 1-2 years and you are no longer contagious. 

If you have been diagnosed with HPV, it’s important to get regular cervical cancer screenings to ensure you are healthy - even if you haven't noticed any symptoms or menstrual changes. 

how can hpv-induced cervical cancer be treated? 

Cervical cancer that has been induced by HPV can be treated if detected at an early stage. 

It’s best to seek advice from your gynaecologist and oncologist for the treatment needed. 

frequently asked questions 

Can HPV vaccine be given during your period?

Yes absolutely. Your period has nothing to do with the HPV vaccination and you can get it while you’re on your period.

Keep in mind that, like all vaccinations, the HPV vaccine might cause a few symptoms such as dizziness, fever, body aches etc. So if you are already experiencing period cramps while on your period, you can wait till your period is over to ensure a more comfortable experience. 

Can HPV cause UTI infections?

Yes, due to the close proximity of your genitals and urinary tract HPV can cause urinary tract infections (UTI’s). 

If you notice any UTI symptoms such as irregular discharge, stinging when you pee and the constant urge to urinate, please consult a doctor to get necessary treatment. 

What does HPV discharge look like?

HPV can cause irregular and unusual discharge which can be watery, pale, pink or brown in colour, and often have a stronger odour than usual discharge. 

Does HPV cause pain in the lower abdomen?

If you are experiencing warts due to HPV and at risk of developing cancer, this might cause pain in your lower abdomen. 

If you notice any unusual cramps in your lower abdomen outside of regular period cramps, it’s best to consult a doctor. 

Can HPV make you feel unwell? 

HPV goes away on its own in 9 out of 10 cases. But if HPV doesn't go away and develops into warts and cervical cancer, then it can make you feel unwell. 

How do HPV and menstrual cycle interact?

HPV and the menstrual cycle don’t interact directly.

However, if you’ve developed a high-risk HPV infection then you might notice spotting between your periods. 

I have HPV and missed my period. Why is this?

Having HPV cannot make you miss your period. 

However, if your HPV has developed into a high-risk infection, this can cause a UTI or cervical cancer, which can alter your menstrual cycle. 

It’s best to consult a doctor and get the required tests done if you have HPV and have missed a period. 

Is HPV dangerous in all cases?

No, not at all! In fact, 90% of HPV cases clear up on their own and there is no need for treatment. 

HPV can only be dangerous if it develops into cervical cancer and is left untreated.

The best way to ensure that HPV does not become dangerous for you is to get the vaccination as early as possible, and get a pap-smear test done once every two years after you’re 22 to detect any vaginal abnormalities.  

What about HPV and menstrual cups – can I use my cup if I have HPV?

Yes, you can use a menstrual cup if you have HPV. 

The HPV virus is present in your cervix, whereas your menstrual cup sits in your vaginal canal. 

However, it’s best to consult a doctor to understand how your virus has spread. For example, if you’ve developed a UTI due to HPV, then it’s better to not use a menstrual cup until your UTI clears out. 

Is HPV contagious for life? 

No, you are only contagious for the time that your body carries the HPV strain - regardless of whether or not you have symptoms. 

In most cases, your immune system will be able to battle and destroy the HPV strain, making you noninfectious.