Home Common Health Issues Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection

Human Papilloma Virus infection in vagina and cervix

Testing positive for HPV means that you need to take care of yourself. You take pap smear regularly, be healthy and strengthen your immune defence, and let your body do the work.

HPV infection of vagina and cervix is a very common for women. According to one research, 90% of women who have sex…most of us do… carry HPV. The good news is that most people can clear the virus without any effort within two years.  Our body takes care of it.

Among the minority who do not manage, however, the virus can end up injuring the surface of the skin. Doctors call these wounded tissues lesions. Again, the good news is that it is relatively rare, 1 in 10 according to one statistics, that the virus manages to create lesions and even if they do manage, the lesions can be there for years without causing any real harm.

However, for some very unlucky people, the lesions grow into cancer. According to the latest statistic, it is 1 in 50 women who have lesions that ends up with cancer. That is still a low probability but it is important to manage the risk.

It can take 8-10 years for the virus to cause full-scale lesions; for minority of these women, lesions will evolve into cancer over a period of several years in addition.

Since chance of HPV infection is very high and most women do not require treatment, doctors only give HPV test to those women who are considered high risk such as having lesions.

Alternatively, women over the age of 30 take Pap smear to see if there is any lesion. If there is, doctors will give HPV test to see if the patients have HPV and whether these HPV are high risk subtypes of HPV that are known to cause trouble.

Once a woman is diagnosed with lesions and tested positive for high risk HPV, she is asked to visit the doctor regularly to see whether the infection persists and how the lesion is. This is a period called ‘wait and see’.

There are effective vaccines for HPV and pupils are getting vaccinated between the age of 11 and 13 in many countries. You can also get this vaccine if you have not already gotten HPV.

Once you get the virus, there is no medicine to fight it directly other than your own immune system; however, there is a medical device called Papilocare that has some evidence to show that it helps the patient’s body to fight infection.

Once lesions start to grow, it is common for doctors to remove the affected area by surgery.

It is important not to confuse genital warts and cervical lesions and cancer. Genital warts are caused by HPV 6 and 11 while cervical lesions are developed by high-risk HPV subtypes such as 16 and 18.

Cervical lesions/ cancer and genital warts are very different diseases caused by different viruses, the treatments for each are likewise very different. The standard therapy for wart removal, such as freezing will not work for high risk HPV infections associated with cancer, and vice versa.  It is important to get the appropriate treatment that is type-specific and therefore effective. So if you do find out that you are infected with high risk HPV, do not assume that the usual wart removal therapy will help.

Here are some useful and high-quality sources of information:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: an organisation of the United States Government in charge of managing infectious diseases

Mayo Clinic: one of the most trusted hospitals in the US.

NHS England

Cancer Research UK: one of the world’s leading cancer research charities

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