HPV has even made its way into popular culture. In the first season of the controversial HBO series Girls, for example, lead character Hannah discovered that she had HPV and confronted her current boyfriend. Said boyfriend declared that she could not have contracted the virus from him because he had been tested and did not have it, and millions of women around the U.S. simultaneously yelled at their televisions. Viewers knew, even if Hannah didn't, that there is no test to diagnose HPV in men.
The HPV Vaccine
Prior to a few years ago, the only protection women had from contracting HPV was to limit their s,xual partners and use cndoms during every encounter. Even those precautions only helped a bit, though. Women who did both of those things very effectively still contracted HPV - even while using a condm, and even with their very first partners.
Young women today, though, have a much more reliable alternative: the HPV vaccine. OB/GYNs recommend vaccination for women before they become sxually active, so that they are protected from future cervical cancer risk.
Women Who Already Have HPV
Of course, the vaccine came too late for many women who already had HPV. For those women, the best hope is early detection via regular Pap smears.
OB/GYNs can detect cervical cancer in what's known as the precancerous stage. In other words, cells begin to show abnormal characteristics long before they develop into full-blown cervical cancer. In these cases, women may have the abnormal cells removed via a number of outpatient procedures that create minimal discomfort and very little recovery time.
Of course, removal of the abnormal cells does not treat the virus. Once a woman has HPV, she will always have it, and will need to keep up with her annual OB/GYN visits to watch for a recurrence of the abnormalities.
Cervical Cancer Treatment
If abnormal cells go undiagnosed for too long, they may turn into full-blown cervical cancer. When this happens, treatment becomes much the same as with other forms of cancer. Cancerous cells need to be removed (resulting in the loss of fertility for some women) and if the cancer has reached a more serious level, radiation treatment may be required.
There really is no way to predict the kind of treatment a woman will need for cervical cancer until there is a specific diagnosis and medical tests are performed. As with any cancer, the treatment will depend on how advanced the disease is when it is discovered.
Prevention and Early Detection are the Keys
Waiting for symptoms is a dangerous path, since they generally do not show up until the disease has become very advanced. That's why the HPV vaccine and regular OB/GYN exams offer the best hope for women in combating cervical cancer.