What does HPV and Dysplasia mean, for me?

>> Tuesday, February 22, 2011

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Hello again everyone. I always look forward to this time of the week. I hope everyone is well and avoiding all the cold & flu bugs flying around.

This week our question came from Vanessa: "Dr. Boyd I just got the results of my pap smear back and it showed 'high risk HPV with mild to moderate dysplasia'. I'm worried because someone told me HPV is an STD and that dysplasia is pre-cancerous."

Well, Vanessa let's back up a little bit. First of all, the reason you come in once a year for your pap is to screen for cervical cancer. And since so many more women do get tested yearly now, we rarely see advanced cases of cervical cancer like they saw years ago.

These days, if a woman has an abnormal pap, we do repeat paps or biopsies immediately to evaluate the cervical tissue. If necessary, any abnormal tissue with HPV can be removed so healthy tissue can grow in its place. This way, dysplasia or high risk HPV never have a chance to progress to a cancerous condition.

HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) is transferred through sexual contact and belongs to the wart family. It can show up as visible genital warts or flat 'invisible' kind that can cause cervical cancer. Men harbor it in their semen and women carry it in their cervical tissue and cervical/vaginal fluids.

There are two types of HPV: 'low risk’ and ‘high risk'. High risk is the one reported on pap smears and is responsible for cervical Cancer. It can also cause penile cancer, anal cancer, vulvar cancer and oral cancer. Therefore, it can be transferred though anal sex and oral sex as well.

It's possible to get HPV from your first sexual partner and not know you have it. There are no symptoms and it can lay dormant for years. Just like the herpes virus, it may erupt during times of stress or during pregnancy. When HPV begins to flare up, it causes cellular changes in the tissues. When your pap specimen is taken, the cells are looked at under a microscope and the clinician can see the HPV infection and any affects it is having upon your cervix.

Dysplasia is not cancer; it is not even pre-cancer. It is only a descriptive name given to tissue at a certain point in time so that it can be compared with another point in time to note changes. With dysplasia, the terms ‘mild’, ‘moderate’ and ‘severe’ are used, and then it may go to cancer. Most of these changes take several years to happen, and most women choose some form of treatment long before cancer would become an issue.

What about the men? That's what women worry about when they find out they have HPV - shouldn't the men be tested too? Unfortunately, it doesn't do much good, because HPV is in their semen, and there is no way to treat them. They are not at risk for cancer the same as we are.

Fortunately, the new HPV vaccine, which can be given starting at age 8 to boys and girls, should start making a huge impact in the future.

The most important thing is keep getting your pap smears on a regular basis. Over 75% of the U.S. population has HPV, and it is as high as 85% worldwide. So, you are definitely not alone in this. It is a battle we've been working hard to win, and the vaccine is one step along with regular pap tests.

As I've told you, one of the best things you can do daily to help yourself feel fresh and clean is use the new WaterWorks feminine cleansing system. This is so wonderful because it can be used when you shower, and does not require special formulas or chemicals - just plain tap water. And, it can be used more than once a day. Most women will use it right after sex to rinse out semen, which helps them feel clean and fresh right away. Plus this can also immediately rinse away any semen infected with HPV or other STDs. This is important, since a woman's body acts like a little incubator for bacteria or viruses. That is why so many women love using their WaterWorks - it gives them confidence and they feel they are working towards better health with better hygiene. Plus WaterWorks is FDA cleared for vaginal cleansing to remove unwanted odor with or without discharge.

If you have more questions on your pap or HPV let me know and I will be happy to discuss with you. I know it is scary and confusing when you get different answers from different sources. I hope this makes your week a little calmer.

Here's to some nice spring days ahead.

Have a good week.

God Bless,
Dr. Susan Boyd
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