How To Treat HPV
The good news is, most HPV infections go away without you having to do a thing. Your body’s immune system takes care of the infection, generally within about two years. Of course, it helps if you take care of your health by following a nutritious diet, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and practicing safe sex.
The less than good news is that there’s no cure for HPV. However, you have treatment options for the health issues HPV can cause.
If you have high-risk HPV, your body may be developing abnormal cells associated with various types of HPV-related cancer. The one cancer type caused by HPV that can be screened for is cervical cancer. In fact, though there is an HPV test for the cervix, there are none for other genital areas, including the penis. Because HPV is common and usually disappears on its own after a few years, it’s not always necessary to test or screen for it. For women, however, cervical cancer screening is highly recommended.
Screening involves undergoing either a Pap smear, which looks for cell changes in the cervix that may become cancerous if not treated properly; and/or the HPV test, which looks for the virus that can cause cell changes.
Both of these tests are minimally invasive and involve the same collection process, which can be done in your doctor’s office. A clinician uses a device to help widen the vagina so a few cell samples can be extracted from the cervix with a cotton-swab like instrument. The cell sample is examined in a laboratory. If you are getting a Pap test, the cells will be examined to see if they look normal. If you have chosen an HPV test, the cells will be tested for HPV.
For women who have abnormal Pap test results, further tests or treatment may be recommended. These include:
- Colposcopy, a procedure in which a doctor examines your cervix more closely to identify any precancerous cells.
- Cryotherapy, which involves freezing the area of precancerous cells in the cervix.
- Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP), which involves the use of an electrical current to remove the precancerous cells from the cervix.
For more information on what to expect if you have been diagnosed with precancerous cervical cancer, see “Cervical Cancer: What It Is and How To Treat It.”
Also, check out our other articles on how to treat HPV-related cancers.
Anal Cancer: What It Is and How To Treat It
Anal cancer is a disease in which cancerous cells develop in the tissues in the anus. Being infected with HPV increases your risk of developing anal cancer, but it is not the only cause of the disease. Other risk factors for anal cancer include:
- A history of anal precancer or anal warts. These conditions indicate an HPV infection.
- A history of other HPV-related cancers, such as cervical, vaginal, or vulvar.
- Having numerous sexual partners.
- Engaging in anal intercourse (anal sex).
- Being older than 50 years.
- Experiencing frequent anal swelling, soreness, and redness.
- Appearance of fistulas (abnormal breaks in the skin) in the anus.
- Smoking cigarettes.
How do you know if you have anal cancer?
Signs and symptoms of anal cancer can be associated with other conditions as well, so don’t assume you have the disease if you are experiencing one or more of the following. That said, here are the more common indications you may have the disease:
- Bleeding from the anus or rectum.
- Discharge or itching from the anus.
- A lump near the anus.
- Pressure or pain in the region around the anus.
- A change in bowel habits.
- If you feel like you have a hemorrhoid.
Along with considering the signs and symptoms you share, your doctor will perform a series of tests and procedures to diagnose the disease.
Patient history and physical exam: Your doctor will perform a general physical examination, review all of your medical history, and ask about your health habits.
Digital rectal exam: This slightly uncomfortable but quick exam involves a doctor or nurse inserting a lubricated, gloved finger into your anus to feel for lumps or other abnormalities.
Proctoscopy: This procedure involves using a lighted tube-like instrument with a lens that allows the doctor to see inside the rectum and anus. Doctors can also use this scope to take a tissue sample, which can be examined for signs of cancer.
Anoscopy: A rigid lighted tube called an anoscope (aka, anal speculum) is placed a few inches into the anus to look for abnormalities in the anal canal.
Endo-anal or endorectal ultrasound: In this procedure, the clinician or technician places an ultrasound probe (transducer) into the anus or rectum. The probe emits high-energy sound waves that bounce off the internal tissues and makes echoes. These echoes form an image called a sonogram, which can reveal abnormalities in the area.
Biopsy: A clinician obtains a sample of cells or tissue from the anus, which is then examined under a microscope to look for signs of cancer.
Treating anal cancer
The treatment plan you and your doctor choose will depend on the stage (severity) of the cancer, where the tumor is located, whether you have human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and whether the cancer remains after initial treatment or comes back. The three basic treatment approaches are radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery. There are also new types of treatment being explored in clinical trials.
Radiation Therapy: This can be conventional external radiation or internal radiation, which involves implanting a radioactive substance sealed in needles, wires, seeds, or catheter near or into the cancer.
Chemotherapy: Drugs designed to stop or slow cancer growth are given either orally or intravenously (by IV).
Surgery: Two different approaches may be used. Local resection involves cutting the tumor from the anus. This technique is effective for small tumors located in the lower part of the anus that have not spread. Local resection can save the sphincter muscles so you can still control bowel movements.
An abdominoperineal resection involves removing the anus, rectum, and part of the sigmoid colon through an incision made in the abdomen. This procedures leaves you with an opening, called a stoma, on the surface of the body, from which waste can be collected in disposable bags. This is known as a colostomy.
Individuals are also encouraged to talk to their doctor about the possibility of participating in a clinical trial. More information about clinical trials can be found at the National Cancer Institute’s website on NCI-Supported Clinical Trials.
National Cancer Institute. Anal cancer treatment. Accessed 2019 Sept 24