Understanding the role of HPV in cervical cancer
What is HPV?
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common virus. Over 150 types of HPV have been identified. However, only some types are known to cause health problems such as genital warts and cancers.
How do you get infected by HPV?
HPV is primarily transferred by skin-to-skin contact. Nearly all sexually active adults will get HPV at some point in their lives. It is not a reflection on you, your partner or your lifestyle. It may take years after you were first infected before you develop any symptoms. In most cases, your body will clear HPV. However, when the presence of HPV continues, certain high-risk HPV can lead to cancers such as cervical cancer.
How do I know if I have HPV?
Most high-risk HPV infections have no symptoms, are harmless and are cleared by the body’s immune system within two years. Anyone can test positive for HPV. Testing is the only way to know for sure.
How do you test for an HPV infection?
The sample collected for an HPV test is identical to the way a Pap test is done. In fact, the same sample can be used for both a Pap test and an HPV test. A doctor’s office will send the collected samples to a lab where the HPV test is conducted.
Have I been tested for HPV before?
Most countries still screen with a Pap test first, but many countries have also incorporated some form of HPV testing – sometimes as the first screening test, sometimes together with a Pap test, sometimes to further assess abnormal Pap results.
What are HPV 16 and HPV 18?
There are over 150 different types of HPV. Not all HPV types are harmful. Some have a higher risk of causing cancer. HPV 16 and HPV 18 are the two highest risk types of the virus and known to cause about 70% of cervical cancer.
I had the HPV vaccine. Do I still need to be tested for HPV infection?
Yes. Experts still recommend routine screening. The vaccine does not protect against all high-risk types of the virus.