All you need to know about HPVin women
There has been a great deal of publicity recently concerning the Human Papillomavirus and the sometimes devastating effects it can have on women. The Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, is known to be a risk factor in the development of cervical cancer – studies also show it plays a role in the development of anal cancer, cancer in the penis, vagina, scrotum or vulva and in mouth and throat cancers. HPVin women is a silent infection that also tends to be symptom free – some strains of the virus do cause genital warts, but, these are not the high risk strains associated with cancer development.
There are over 10o strains of HPV, around forty of which are transmitted sexually. Not all of these strains are considered to be high risk for cancer. HPV is an extremely common infection and HPVin women is the most common of all – generally seen in women in their late teens or early twenties.
Infection and protection
HPV is difficult to protect against – the virus may well be present on the skin areas not covered by a condom for example. If one partner is infected then the other partner is almost definitely going to catch the virus – and the virus is then passed back and forth between the two individuals. The only guaranteed way not to become infected with HPV is to abstain from vaginal, oral and anal sex. It is not uncommon for an individual to be infected with HPV for many years without realising it due to the lack of symptoms.
There is currently no available treatment for HPVin women – there are treatments for any conditions which result from an infection, such as abnormal changes to cells in the cervix. These changes may be found during a regular Pap smear test following which the medical practitioner may recommend a specific HPV test.
Research indicates that an infection of HPV generally tends to resolve itself and disappear within two years, the infected individual will then be immune from that particular strain of the virus – but may be re-infected with a different strain, which means there is no room for complacency. It is not yet fully understood if an individual will be a carrier of the virus following an infection which has cleared.
In around 10% of HPVin women the virus does not clear so easily and may put the woman at increased risk of developing cancer.
Persistent HPV infections
When the HPVin women is seen to be persistent it is now understood that the women is at high risk of developing cancer. Persistent HPV infections are thought to cause almost all cervical cancers. Cervical cancer is the most common cancer amongst women and claims around 250,000 lives worldwide each year.
HPV infections also account for around 5% of all cancers annually, this is particularly noted in the development of anal cancer, genital cancer and some mouth and throat cancers.
HPV and the myths
As so often happens with medical conditions there are many myths surrounding the transmission and contraction of the HPV infection – it should be noted that -
- HPV is not the result of poor personal hygiene
- You cannot catch the HPV virus from a toilet seat
- HPV is not the result of an abortion
- The infection cannot be caused by having rough sex, or sex during a menstrual period
- HPV will not affect pregnancy or fertility -nor will the treatment for any abnormal cell changes that result from the infection.
There is currently no available HPV screening for men, women under the age of thirty who present an abnormal Pap smear test may subsequently be screened for HPV.