What’s the deal with HPV?
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that is primarily transferred by skin-to-skin sexual contact. In fact, HPV is so common that over 80% of sexually active adults will get HPV at some point in their lives1,2.
While over 150 types of HPV have been identified, only some are high-risk HPV types, known to cause health problems such as genital warts and cancers. Testing positive for HPV is not a negative reflection on you, your partner, or your lifestyle1,2.
Most high-risk HPV infections have no symptoms, are harmless, and are cleared by the body’s immune system within two years1,2. Since there are often no symptoms, a woman may never know that she or her partner has HPV. However, when the presence of HPV continues, certain types of high-risk HPV can progress to precancer or cancer. In women, HPV 16 and HPV 18 are the two highest risk types, known to cause close to 70% of cervical cancer cases1,2.
Click on the video to learn more about how HPV infections can lead to cervical cancer.
What should I know about cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer occurs when the cells of the cervix grow abnormally and invade other tissues and organs of the body.3 99% of cervical cancers are caused by persistent infection of certain high-risk types of HPV are known to be the primary cause of cervical cancer4.
As with all cancers, an early diagnosis is key to successful treatment and cure. Treating precancerous changes that affect only the surface of a small part of the cervix has a higher chance of being successful than treating invasive cancer that affects a large portion of the cervix or has spread to other tissues in the body.
When it comes to understanding your risk for cervical cancer, routine cervical screening is one of the most important steps you can take. So, it’s important to book and attend your cervical screening appointment, even when you are feeling healthy. HPV testing is part of cervical screening in the UK and Ireland and is offered to all women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 64. It helps identify those at an increased risk of cervical cancer that should therefore have further tests and increased monitoring4.
In the UK and Ireland you'll get a letter in the post inviting you to make an appointment. You can book an appointment as soon as you get a letter. If you missed your last cervical screening, you do not need to wait for a letter to book an appointment.
Do you ever wonder why there is a perceived stigma about HPV or even the diagnosis of cervical cancer?
It's a good question, because HPV is so very common and healthy sexual activity and partner relationships will likely (unknowingly) involve sharing the virus. Most of the time there are no symptoms or problems, and it can be transmitted through sexual touch, with or without actual intercourse, and with or without condom use.
There is no reason to point blame, or feel shame in testing positive for HPV, or in a cervical cancer diagnosis. To help combat the myths surrounding HPV, it helps to talk about it openly4.
1 www.jostrust.org.uk/information/hpv/what-is-hpv (accessed April 2021)
2 www.jostrust.org.uk/information/hpv/how-do-people-get-hpv (accessed April 2021)
3 https://vaccine-safety-training.org/tl_files/vs/pdf/UKDH_HPVfactsheet.pdf (accessed April 2021)
4 www.nhs.uk/conditions/cervical-cancer/prevention/ (accessed April 2021)