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Anonymous on September 23, 2011

What is HPV and how is it treated?

My best friend just found out she has HPV...an STD that can lead to cancer, I think uterine. What is HPV and how is it treated?

answered by Ruthann M. Cunningham, MD on September 23, 2011

Thanks for your question. I commend you for helping your friend learn more about her diagnosis. 

HPV is the abbreviation we use for “human papillomavirus.” It’s a virus that is most often spread through sexual contact (vaginal, anal or oral sex). There are two main types of HPV that can cause problems in the genital area. One type causes genital warts and the other type can cause cancer. HPV mainly causes cervical cancer...in fact, almost 70% of cervical cancers are caused by HPV. 

But HPV can sometimes cause other cancers, including cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus and throat. Right now, researchers don’t think HPV causes uterine cancer...so it’s much more likely that your friend was diagnosed with the kind of HPV that causes cervical cancer. 

In terms of next steps and treatment for HPV...if your friend has already had a Pap test that detected abnormal cells, the next step for her doctor will be to take another look at your friend’s cervix in a procedure called a colposcopy. The doctor might also take some cells to look at under a microscope. If any of the cells don’t look right, her doctor may decide that the cells could lead to cancer at some point and should be removed. 

There are several different ways to remove bad cells (like freezing, cutting or blasting the cells with a laser) and they’re all typically quite effective at reducing cervical cancer risk. 

This can be a scary time for some people, so I’m glad you’re supporting your friend. You and your friend can learn more about HPV risks and treatment in our HPV Overview.

Thanks again for your question, and for helping your friend be well-informed...I wish her good health. 

Related info:

Ruthann M. Cunningham, MD

Dr. Cunningham is a member of the Analyte Physicans Group. She's also a member of the American College of Emergency Physicians, practicing at both Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital in Illinois and at Wheaton Franciscan All Saints Medical Center in Wisconsin. An ER physician since 2000, she regularly treats patients with STDs. Dr. Cunningham was educated at Wayne State University School of Medicine and completed her Emergency Medicine residency at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, IL.

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