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What is HPV?

Updated: Mar 25

Hi friends! March 4th is Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Awareness Day. This virus can cause various effects on the pelvic floor region, and this week we are going to talk about what those are.


HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. Many individuals do not have symptoms and the HPV infection goes away on its own within 1-2 years; however, some individuals have health problems like genital warts or cancer from the virus (CDC, 2022). Many types of the HPV virus have been shown to cause cervical cancer (Montomoli, 2018). HPV can also cause cancer of the vagina and vulva, penis, anus, and throat (CDC, 2022). These cancers often develop years after the infection with HPV (CDC, 2022).


Screening for cervical cancer is done using a procedure called a pap smear. The pap smear test is simple and fast—your provider uses a special brush to collect a sample of cells from your cervix which are then tested for cancer (ACOG, 2021). For many people, the pap smear is a quick and easy procedure; however, if you deal with conditions of the pelvic floor like chronic pelvic pain, vaginismus, or vulvodynia, a pap smear can be a painful and daunting test.


For most individuals pap smears are recommended every 3-5 years depending on age, but talk with your provider about the recommendations for you personally.


If a pap smear is painful, or even impossible because of pain, there is hope! Pelvic floor physical therapists often work with individuals dealing with these conditions to help manage their pain to allow for screening tests to be done.


In addition to cancer, HPV can cause genital warts. These warts usually look like a small bump (or group of bumps) around the penis/testicles or vulva (CDC, 2022). They can be raised or flat, and may even be shaped like cauliflower (CDC, 2022). It is important to regularly look at your vulva so that if you notice changes like genital warts, you can discuss them with your providers.


If HPV does cause cancer in the pelvic floor region, this can lead to further pelvic floor problems like pain or incontinence due to the treatments for cancer like surgery and radiation. Pelvic floor physical therapist can help to address and manage these symptoms as well. You can ask your doctor for a referral or find one on your own on our website with Find A PT.


The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) both recommend the HPV vaccine for most individuals. The vaccine helps to prevent new infections of the HPV virus but does not treat existing ones. The vaccine is typically administered to all genders around age 11 or 12. Talk with you doctor to see if this is recommended for you.


To learn more about your pelvic floor muscles, check out these great resources:


For providers, check out our online courses to help your clients. Consider joining our Ambassador Program and most of our courses are included with your membership!


Written by Emily Reul, PT, DPT


References

  1. Cancers caused by HPV. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. February 28, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/cancer.html

  2. Cervical cancer screening. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. May 2021. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/cervical-cancer-screening

  3. Montomoli E, Manini I. Epidemiology and prevention of Human Papillomavirus. Ann Ig.2018;30(1):28-32.

  4. ACOG committee opinion: human papilloma virus vaccination. ACOG Comm Opin. 2020;136(2):e15-e21.

  5. HPV vaccination recommendations. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. November 16, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/hpv/hcp/recommendations.html

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