Women's Wellness

HPV and STDs

at Cadogan Clinic, Leaders in Women’s Health and Wellness.

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What is HPV?

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name for a very common group of viruses. There are more than one hundred different types of HPV and most are not cause for concern. However some of these viruses may cause cancer or other gynaecological problems, such as genital warts.  It is possible to carry and pass the virus on without developing actual warts. 

The type of HPV that causes genital warts is called low-risk HPV, which is not linked to cancer. If you have genital warts, this does not increase your risk of cervical cancer.

High-risk HPV is linked to cervical cancer, vulval cancer, penile cancer, vaginal cancer, anal cancer and some types of head and neck cancer. The HPV strain which can lead to cervical cancer can be picked up as part of a routine smear test. If HPV is found in your smear test sample, you will need further tests. Sometimes the HPV will go on its own, but it may also develop into abnormal cells, which will need to be removed.

Most HPV infections do not cause any problems, showing no symptoms, and clear from your body in two years.  HPV is very common and most people will have it at some point in their lives, regardless of the number of sexual partners they have.

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What are the most common Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)?

HPV can cause genital warts, a common sexually transmitted infection. A person who has genital warts, may notice lumps or growths which were not there before around the vagina, penis or anus, but in some cases warts may also appear on the cervix. As a result, these are harder to spot. Genital warts are easily treated.

Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the UK. Symptoms include the presence of unusual discharge from the vagain, penis or anus, pain when urinating, and women may experience abdomen pain and bleeding after sex and between periods. Men may experience pain and swelling in the testicles. However most people do not experience symptoms and do not realise they have the condition.

Chlamydia is easily treated if caught early on, but if left untreated it can lead to complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), ectopic pregnancy and infertility in women.

Gonorrhoea, sometimes colloquially referred to as ‘the clap’, is a bacterial infection which causes a thick yellow or green discharge from the penis or vagina, as well as pain when urinating and, in women, bleeding between periods. However one in 10 infected men and almost half of women who are infected with gonorrhoea do not show any symptoms. Gonorrhoea is treated with an injection of antibiotics. If left untreated, complications may include infertility and PID.

Syphilis symptoms are often hard to spot and can be mild, often changing over time and may even come and go. These symptoms include swollen glands, flu-like symptoms (ie fever and headaches), small painless ulcers on the penis, vagina or anus, white or grey wart-like growths on the penis, vagina or anus, sores in other area of the body including in or around the mouth, a rash on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet which may spread across the body, white patches in the mouth and patchy hair loss on the head, beard and eyebrows. It can take three weeks or even longer for the symptoms of syphilis to appear after infection.

If not treated, syphilis can cause serious and potentially life-threatening problems, such as heart problems and damage to the organs, nerves, joints and brain.

Genital herpes presents as a series of small blisters which burst to leave red, open sores around the penis, vagina, anus, bottom or thighs. You are likely to experience a tingling, burning or itching feeling around your genitals and pain during urination. Women with herpes may also experience unusual vaginal discharge.

It may take months or even years for blisters to appear after you have been infected. Unfortunately there is no cure for herpes but the symptoms can be treated. The symptoms may go on their own, but you may experience another outbreak in the future.

What causes the transmission of STDs?

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), also known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are spread through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex. They can also be spread by sharing vibrators or other sex toys that have not been washed or covered with a new condom each time they're used. You can spread STIs even if you are showing no symptoms, so it is important to be tested regularly. Sometimes you may not display any symptoms until months or even years after being infected.

If a pregnant woman contracts gonorrhoea, she can pass the infection on to her unborn baby. It is important to get tested and treated before the baby is born as gonorrhoea can cause permanent blindness in an unborn baby.

Is HPV different from other STDs?

Unlike most STIs, you do not have to have penatrative sex to contract HPV. HPV can be spread via skin-to-skin contact of the genital area, as well as through penatrative sex and sharing sex toys. While using condoms during sex can stop the spread of STDs, it won’t necessarily stop you from contracting HPV. You do not need to have a had many sexual partners to contract HPV and you can catch it when you have sexual contact for the first time.

Unlike most STDs, HPV does not cause symptoms, unless you have contracted the low-risk strain of the virus that causes genital warts. However, unlike most STIs, a high-risk strain of HPV can cause cervical cancer, vulval cancer, penile cancer, vaginal cancer, anal cancer and some types of head and neck cancer.

Most STDs can be cured or treated, but there is no treatment for HPV itself, only for the conditions it can cause, such as genital warts and cervical cancer.

How are HPV and other STDs tested?

A cervical smear test involves taking a sample of cells from your cervix in order to test for certain types of HPV which cause changes to the cells in your cervix. A cervical smear aims to catch these cell changes and treat them before they turn into cervical cancer.

Some sexual health clinics may offer anal screening for HPV to men with a higher risk of developing anal cancer. For example, men who have sex with other men. There is no blood test for HPV.

STD testing may involve a genital exam, blood test, urine test and taking a swab from the urethra and/or vagina.

Testing for chlamydia and gonorrhoea usually requires only a urine sample or a vagina swab for a woman. You may be asked to take this swab yourself. A blood sample will be required if you are being tested for syphilis.

You can only be tested for herpes if you currently have sores on your penis, vagina or anus. A swab will be taken from one or more of these sores to be tested.

What treatment is available for HPV and other STDs?

There is currently no treatment available for HPV. If the virus has caused genital warts, these can be treated with cryotherapy, where a carefully measured dose of liquid nitrogen is applied to the affected area, killing the skin cells and causing the warts to scab over and fall off. Alternatively, your doctor may recommend using a cream or having surgery.

Syphilis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia are treated with antibiotics.

There is no cure for herpes, but outbreaks can be treated with antiviral medicine to stop the symptoms getting worse and you may be prescribed cream for the pain.


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Frequently Asked Questions

You can prevent HPV and other STDs by using a condom every time you have vaginal, anal or oral sex, although HPV and herpes can still be passed on if the condom does not cover the infected area. If you share sex toys, wash them after use and put a condom on them.

Do not have sex if you are experiencing an outbreak of herpes.

The HPV vaccine offers protection from a number of different types of HPV. However it will not protect you from every strain of the virus, so even if you have been vaccinated, you should still attend your regular cervical screening appointments.

No, there is currently no treatment for HPV. In most cases, the virus leaves the body after two years, often without causing any symptoms. If the virus causes genital warts, then these can be successfully treated.

It depends on which strain of HPV that you have. Most types of HPV are not serious, although high-risk strains of the virus prompt cell changes which can cause certain cancers. It is important to attend all your cervical smear test appointments in order to catch any HPV or cell changes early.

HPV cannot cause infertility. However certain STIs, if left untreated, put you at risk of complications, including infertility. It is important that you have regular sexual health tests and get chlamydia and gonorrehea treated as soon as possible in order to avoid this complication.

Yes, a certain strain of low-risk HPV does cause genital warts. Genital warts can be treated, but it may take several treatments before they disappear. There is no cure for genital warts, but your body may be able to fight the virus over time.

Yes, men can have HPV. Most men will not display symptoms of HPV. Just like women, certain strains of the virus put men at risk of genital warts and certain genital cancers. If you have any symptoms of genital warts or genital cancers, you must go to the doctor.

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