Cervical Cancer & HPV
About HPV and Cervical Cancer
Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a group of over 100 virus types that are transmitted by skin-to-skin contact. Most strains of HPV will clear on their own. But a few "high-risk" strains, if persistent, may develop into cervical cancer, although this is rare. It's important to remember that not all high-risk strains are covered by the HPV vaccine. Routine pap testing, and HPV testing when recommended, is the best way to screen for cervical cancer.
Who gets HPV?
About 80% of sexually active women have contracted at least one strain of genital HPV by age 50.1 At any given time, approximately 20 million people in the U.S. will have HPV, and approximately 6.2 million are estimated to contract a form of HPV each year.1
Since HPV rarely produces noticeable symptoms, many people with HPV don't even know they have it.
Genital warts and cervical cancer
People often think of genital warts when they think of HPV, but many are not aware that genital warts are most often associated with low-risk strains of HPV. High-risk strains most often don't cause warts. So it's important not to confuse genital warts with your cervical cancer risk.
High- and low-risk HPV strains
There are over 100 different strains of HPV. The majority are considered to be "low-risk," meaning they are not associated with cervical cancer. In fact, most HPV infections will go away by themselves within 2 years.
14 HPV strains are considered to be high-risk, and may over time lead to cervical cancer. Just two of these high-risk strains — HPV-16 and HPV-18 — have been shown to account for about 70% of cervical cancer cases.
The HPV vaccine
The HPV vaccine protects against two high-risk HPV strains: HPV-16 and HPV-18. These strains are responsible for about 70% of cervical cancer cases. However, not all high-risk strains are covered by the vaccine. That's why regular pap testing, and HPV testing when recommended, remains important whether or not you've had the HPV vaccine.
Testing for HPV
While high-risk HPV is known to cause the majority of cervical cancers a small amount of HPV infections actually become cervical cancer. In fact, most sexually active women will be exposed to HPV and the vast majority of these infections will clear on their own.
Because of this, HPV testing is recommended for use with pap test when:
- Your pap test result comes back as inconclusive or slightly abnormal (ASC-US)
- You are age 30 or older
At this time, there is no cure for HPV. If your doctor recommends an HPV test with your pap test, both can be taken from your ThinPrep pap test sample. However, for infections that persist, routine pap testing and HPV testing when recommended are the surest method for early detection.
Spreading awareness of HPV
According to a recent survey by the U.S. National Cancer Institute, only 40% of American women have heard of HPV, and only 20% have heard of its link to cervical cancer. If you have friends who don't know about HPV — spread the word. And make sure they know about the importance of getting regular pap tests, too.
1. American Cancer Society. Guideline for Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine Use to Prevent Cervical Cancer and Its Precursors. Available here: http://caonline.amcancersoc.org/cgi/content/full/57/1/7. Accessed 9/2/08.
2. Hybrid Capture® 2 Package Insert. QIAGEN Group, Netherlands.
3. American Cancer Society. Thinking About Testing for HPV? Available here: http://www.cancer.org/ docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_6x_Thinking_About_Testing_for_HPV.asp. Accessed 5/29/08.