HPV: Awareness, Prevention and Treatment
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection. The American Social Health Association estimates that about 75–80% of sexually active Americans will be infected with HPV at some point in their lifetime. Over 170 types of HPV have been identified and many people have subclinical varieties (never show symptoms).
Unfortunately, certain types of HPV are potentially cancer causing. Because this virus is so common and often asymptomatic, HPV has lead to the tragic deaths of many young women from cervical cancer. It can also cause genital warts and anal, mouth/throat, genital and other cancers. Awareness, prevention and early treatment are vital.
The best forms of prevention are ensuring young women get the HPV vaccine and that all young people receive education about sexual health. Regular gynecological checkups are also vital for screening.
Vaccination: HPV vaccines are now widely available in many areas of the world. They vaccinate against the strains of HPV most commonly associated with cancer. The standard recommendation is to vaccinate girls around age 9-13 (most commonly given to 11 & 12 year olds) because the vaccine should be given before exposure to the virus. One of the vaccines is also approved for boys. The vaccination is a series of three injections over six months, though research indicates one or two injections may still be effective.
Screening: All sexually active women should have regular, comprehensive gynecological checkups. During checkups, cervical screening via Pap smear (Papanicolaou test) can detect abnormal cells that may develop into cancer. Pap smears have reduced the incidence and fatalities from cervical cancer, but the test still only detects cells once they have already shown pre-cancerous changes. More importantly, a simple swab test can be done for early stage detection of certain types of HPV and other infections. This is part of the standard gynecological checkup at Body & Soul’s Shanghai clinics, which is recommended to be done on an annual basis.
If abnormal cells are found during a Pap test, a colposcopy can be done to inspect abnormal areas which can be removed with simple procedures (freezing/cryotherapy or cone biopsy, which can be done with laser, scalpel or LEEP—Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure). This can prevent abnormal cells from developing into cancer. Thereafter, a woman will usually be advised to have more frequent screenings for a period of time. All treatments done to the cervix create potential future risks for pregnancy, since the cervix is vital to a healthy pregnancy and delivery. Patients should understand the benefits of various treatments, along with potential risks.
When HPV is present but precancerous cells have not yet been found, the common Western medical approach is to monitor and wait. Body & Soul can offer alternatives to simply watching and waiting. In addition to monitoring, TCM suggests bolstering the person’s immune system through nutrition and herbal medicines. The body needs good nutrition and all systems in balance to fight the infection. Interferon suppositories for localized treatment have also been shown to be effective. Our practitioners can help you determine the right course of treatment and monitoring for your situation.
Body & Soul’s gynecologist Liu Ai Wu has a strong background in gynecology as well as in internal medicine, since many gynecological problems originate in areas covered by internal medicine. She has also been trained comprehensively in Western medicine and diagnostics. Our team offers the ideal combination of natural, Eastern approaches and Western science to address your gynecological and overall health.