Most HPV infections are subclinical and will cause no physical symptoms; however, in some people subclinical infections will become clinical and may cause benign papillomas (such as warts [verrucae] or squamous cell papilloma), premalignant lesions that will drive to cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, oropharynx and anus.
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Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a DNA virus from the papillomavirus family that is capable of infecting humans.
Like all papillomaviruses, HPVs establish productive infections only in keratinocytes of the skin or mucous membranes.
If abnormal cells are found, women are encouraged to have a colposcopy.
During a colposcopic inspection, biopsies can be taken and abnormal areas can be removed with a simple procedure, typically with a cauterizing loop or, more commonly in the third world—by freezing (cryotherapy).
Treating abnormal cells in this way can prevent them from developing into cervical cancer.
Pap smears have significantly reduced the incidence and fatalities of cervical cancer in the developed world.
"high-risk" sexually transmitted HPVs and may lead to the development of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN), penile intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN), and/or anal intraepithelial neoplasia (AIN).
HPV-associated cancers make up over 5% of total diagnosed cancer-cases worldwide, and this incidence is higher in developing countries where it is estimated to cause almost half a million cases each year.
About a dozen HPV types (including types 16, 18, 31, and 45) are called "high-risk" types because persistent infection may lead to cancers within stratified epithelial tissues such as cervical cancer, anal cancer, vulvar cancer, vaginal cancer, and penile cancer.