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 lives.
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 lifestyle.
There is no treatment for the HPV virus. Most high-risk HPV infections have no symptoms, are harmless, and are cleared by the body’s immune system within two years. 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 cases.
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 is one of the most common cancers in women worldwide. Cervical cancer occurs when the cells of the cervix grow abnormally and invade other tissues and organs of the body.5 Persistent infection of certain high-risk types of HPV are known to be the primary cause of cervical cancer. When HPV infection persists, normal cells change into abnormal cells–it could take as many as 10-15 years for these cells to become cancerous, although in some women this change may happen faster.
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 cancer screening is one of the most important steps you can take. So, it’s important to go to your regular checkups, even when you are feeling healthy, and talk to your healthcare provider about your screening and test options. Learn more about your HPV and cervical cancer screening options.
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 openly. You can also test your knowledge about the facts by checking out this quiz to help address some of the long-standing misinformation.
1 Chesson HW, et al. The estimated lifetime probability of acquiring human papillomavirus in the United States. Sex Transm Dis. 2014;41(11):660-4.
2 https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/human-papillomavirus-(hpv)-and-cervical-cancer (accessed 17July 2020)
3 Human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer 24 January 2019. https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/human-papillomavirus-(hpv)-and-cervical-cancer (accessed 17July 2020)
4 Hariri S, Unger ER, Sternberg M, et al. Prevalence of genital human papillomavirus among females in the United States, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2003–2006. J Infect Dis. 2011; 204(4):566-73. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21791659 (accessed 19May 2020)
5 WebMD. (2019). Cervical cancer. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/cancer/cervical-cancer/cervical-cancer#1 (accessed April 2020).