Read on for a summary of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer. This short article will help you understand a little more about this very common virus.
For information about the new Cervical Screening Test, please see our fact sheet on HPV. You can also watch this short video below which will explain a little more about the changes and why they have been made.
What is HPV?
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common virus that is spread by genital skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity. It is so common that most people have it at some point in their lives and never know it as there are usually no symptoms.
There are numerous strains of HPV, and our immune systems will usually clear the disease within a couple of years (i.e. without treatment)
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is found in the cells of the cervix. It is preventable with regular cervical screening.
There are two main types of cervical cancer:
- Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of cervical cancer, accounting for about 80% of all cases. It starts in the squamous (think “skin”) cells that line the outer surface of the cervix.
- Adenocarcinoma accounts for about 20% of cervical cancers. It develops from the glandular cells, often located higher up in the cervix.
So what’s the link?
If your body does not clear the HPV, it may cause changes in the cells of your cervix, in rare cases, these changes may progress to cancer. It is important to highlight that it usually takes 10-15 years from initial infection with HPV to cancer.
So, cervical cancer IS preventable with regular screening. If a high risk (cancer causing) HPV type is detected, you will be referred to a gynaecologist for review and to have treatment if changes to your cervix are confirmed.
How is HPV treated?
Currently there is no treatment for HPV. Your immune system will usually clear the infection within 2-years. If your body fails to clear the infection, there may be changes to the cells of your cervix which may require treatment.
How did I get a HPV infection?
The HPV virus is spread by genital skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity. You can be exposed to HPV the first time you engage in sexual activity, and from only one sexual partner.
Most people will have a HPV infection at some point in their lives but the body usually clears the virus. The virus is so common that it is a normal part of being sexually active.
Condoms and other barriers such as dental dams may provide some protection from HPV, but they do not cover all the genital skin.
I had a HPV vaccine – do I need to be tested?
Yes! The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that cause around 70% of cervical cancers. It does not protect you against all types of HPV.
The HPV vaccine works best if you have it before you are exposed to the virus. If you have already been exposed to HPV through sexual activity before getting the vaccine, your protection from the vaccine may be reduced.