Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a type of viral infection that usually affects the skin or the moist parts of body such as the inner lining of the mouth, throat and the genital areas. In its low-risk form HPV is also known as wart virus as they are known to cause warts in the throat or the genital areas while in the high-risk form HPV is known to cause cancer.
HPV is a common virus and most people do get the virus during their lifetime. For most people it causes no symptoms and goes away on their own within a 1-2 years. This is quite common in younger people because as we age the body develops immunity to this virus. For some people the HPV virus can be persistent for a longer duration which may subsequently lead to mutating the cells in the body, causing cancer.
Due to its pervasive nature and due to the low detection rate, the HPV virus has been broadly classified into low-risk and high-risk HPVs.
Low-Risk HPV are the ones that causes warts in the throat, neck and genital area. The warts can be treated if diagnosed early and do not lead to cancer.
Some types of HPV can cause changes in the cells structure of the cervical area or the lining of the throat and mouth. Such HPVs are classified into high-risk HPVs. The mutated cells can become cancerous and lead to cancers such as cervical cancer and cancer of the mouth, throat and neck area.
There are more than 100 types or strains of the HPV virus but importance is given to 40 odd strains that affect the genitals, mouth, throat, or that are passed through sexual contact. Each type or strain of the HPV is given a numerical number so that a standardized approach can be taken while diagnosing and treating the symptoms.
For example, HPV strains 16 & 18 could be persistent and cause cancerous lesions in the cervical area leading to cervical cancer. HPV types 6 and 11 cause 90% of all genital warts.
HPV infection could be transmitted by either skin contact with an affected person or through sexual contact. The virus affecting the areas around the genital area are usually spread through intimate contact during intercourse. The risk of having a sexually transmitted HPV virus increases with the number of different partners that a person has.
All HPV infections do not cause cancer. However, high-risk HPVs may cause several types of cancer.
Cervical cancer is the cancer affecting the cervix or the neck of the womb area. Globally, almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV (types 16 and 18) and they are responsible for about 70% of all cervical cancers.
Oropharyngeal cancers are the cancers affecting the throat area, including the base of the tongue and the tonsils. About 70% of oropharyngeal cancers are caused by HPV.
HPV causes about 50% of vulvar cancers, 65% of vaginal cancers, 35% of penile cancers and 90% of anal cancers. Most of these are caused by HPV type 16.
High-risk HPV types are responsible for causing approximately 5% of all cancers worldwide. According to WHO, cervical cancer ranks as the 2nd most frequent cancer among women in India and the 2nd most frequent cancer among women between 15 and 44 years of age.