HPV treatment is misleading because it can't be treated. But the damage it does can be treated. However, depending on what it has done, the treatment may be pretty serious.
Luckily, the immune system usually puts HPV into hibernation within two years of infection. It can pop up again, though, when the immune system is weak, like when people are very stressed or sick. The body again goes to work and puts HPV to sleep.
Most people don't know they have HPV, that we know. As a result, it is spread by sexual contact, even by people using condoms. And until a few years ago, routine testing for HPV in conjunction with a Pap smear was not common.
That means that a lot of women had HPV, and unless it caused dysplasia on their Pap smear, they weren't further tested. Also, there is the fact that mild dysplasia typically clears up on its own, so few doctors will aggressively pursue mild dysplasia--unless HPV is also present.
If dysplasia is caught on a Pap smear, doctors will often want to do a colposcopy and biopsy of the cervix. This is a quick procedure where the doctor swabs some acetic acid, which is just vinegar, on the cervix. The vinegar turns abnormal tissue white under bright light, and then the doctor uses the colposcope (a powerful microscope) to look at the tissue and take a little biopsy.
The colposcope doesn't hurt at all, but the biopsy can hurt. It's quick, though. If they have to do a couple of biopsies, you will bleed afterwards for short while--the little snips they do will clot and scab over on their own.
If the biopsy shows moderate to severe dysplasia, the doctor may recommend a LEEP or a cone biopsy to remove the abnormal tissue. These procedures can have future ramifications for women who want to have children.
If a LEEP or cone biopsy shows cancer, then it gets even scarier. If it's tiny and they got it all, then that might be the end of treatment. If it's bigger and has spread, then more surgery, like a hysterectomy, may be necessary.
HPV, then, is not just a little bug that everybody has. It can cause serious problems or even death. Getting a regular Pap smear can help catch it early.
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