What is HPV?
• HPV (Human Papillomavirus) is a virus.
• Being infected with HPV is very common. Four out of five men and women will have HPV at some point in their lives.
How do you get HPV?
• HPV is transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact. You can get HPV by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus.
• HPV is so common that nearly all men and women get it at some point in their lives.
• The virus can hide in your cervix (the lower part of the uterus) for many years before cell changes on the cervix are found.
How is HPV linked to cervical cancer?
• Infection over many years with certain types or strains of HPV (known as ‘high risk’ types) causes cervical cancer.
• Having HPV does not mean you have or will get cervical cancer. For most women, HPV goes away before it causes any problems. But sometimes the infection persists for a long time and serious cell changes occur on the cervix. If not found and treated these abnormal cells could turn into cancer.
How can cervical cancer be prevented?
We can never prevent all cases of cervical cancer. But the best protection comes from:
• Vaccinating adolescent girls and boys with the HPV vaccine, and
• Having regular screening tests.
However, the vaccine only protects against nine of the 15 high-risk HPV types at most. The low vaccination rate in resource-limited countries implicates that all women should have the opportunity to be screened for the presence of high-risk cervical cells. Screening adult women for cancer and pre-cancer continues to be a vital strategy.
What is an HPV test?
In an HPV test a sample of cells from the cervix or vagina is sent to a laboratory where tests are done to look for high-risk types of HPV. An advantage of an HPV test is that, unlike a Pap test, it can be done by the woman herself, or by a nurse or doctor.
What do my results mean?
The HPV test will detect if you have the virus that can cause abnormal cells in the cervix. If you are found to have the high-risk HPV, your doctor will advise you what type of follow-up is needed to prevent cancer from developing. Please remember that testing positive for high-risk HPV does not mean that you have cancer. Most women with HPV will NOT develop cervical cancer (as the virus clears by itself).
Is there any treatment for HPV?
• There is no treatment for the virus (HPV) as your body’s immune system usually clears it over time.
• However, the serious cell changes caused by HPV can be treated, which is why it is important for you to have further tests if you are found to have high-risk HPV. Treatment of these cells to stop them becoming cervical cancer is very successful.