DrSugar Answers: Is HPV Curable?


DrSugar is in the house and he's here to answer your medical and health related questions. This week, the doc is talking about the confusing yet common subject, HPV, also known as warts.

Dear DrSugar,
Is HPV fully curable? I've gotten several answers from different places and I want to know which one is right.
Thanks,
Anxious for Answers

To see DrSugar's answer, read more.

The short answer to your question is HPV is not curable, but fortunately HPV is now preventable. The topic of HPV has exploded onto the public health scene in the last few years with the advent of the HPV vaccine called Gardasil. HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus and is most commonly associated with warts (both genital and hand warts) and cervical cancer. To put things in perspective, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women worldwide, and HPV is thought to account for up to 90% of those cases. In the United States, about 10,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year and around 3,000 die from the disease annually.

HPV is sexually transmitted and widely prevalent. It is estimated that one in four women of childbearing age is infected with HPV, and most of those do not know they are infected and do not have symptoms. Like many viruses, there is not a “cure” for HPV, but fortunately the majority of women with HPV will not develop warts or cervical cancer, and will do fine with regular pap smears to check for pre-cancerous cervical lesions. The only cure for HPV is to prevent its transmission in the first place. Safe sex practices such as condoms can help prevent the spread of HPV but are not 100% effective.

Gardasil is the first vaccine with the potential to drastically reduce the incidence of a cancer. It protects against the four most common HPV strains that cause 70% of genital warts and 90% of cervical cancer. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) currently recommends all women ages 9-26 be vaccinated to prevent HPV. Ideally, the vaccine should be given before the onset of sexual activity as it only prevents HPV and does not cure HPV strains that have already been contracted. Initial research suggests that women who have been sexually active may still benefit from vaccination. The theory is that if someone has already contracted one strain of HPV, the vaccine can prevent further transmission of the other common strains. I recommend talking to your doctor about whether Gardasil is right for you.

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