Dr. Naz explains six important things you should know about HPV and cervical cancer.

 

By Dr. Nazaneen Homaifar
  1. HPV is a virus (there are over 150 strains!) that is sexually transmitted and causes 99% of cervical cancers worldwide. It is spread through genital-to-genital or any genital-to-oral contact. 
  2. HPV can cause cancer (cervical, oral, or anal) or genital warts. HPV 16 and 18 are the most high-risk strains causing cancer in the USA. 
  3. The only scientifically-proven way to reduce the risk of cervical cancer in sexually active women is through the HPV vaccine. Why? Because almost anyone who is sexually active will get an HPV infection at some point during their life. 
  4. The current HPV vaccine (protecting against 9 strains of high risk HPV) can reduce the risk of cervical cancer by 90%! It should be offered starting at the age of 11 to all boys and girls. In special circumstances, it can be administered to women between the ages of 27-45. 
  5. Once you’ve tested positive for HPV, you will always have it—what is most important is if it is detected or not. Stress and immunosuppression (from a long-term illness or from a current illness) can increase the risk of the virus being active. 
  6. Current cervical cancer screening guidelines recommend starting screening pap smears at age 21 (regardless of whether a patient has had sex) and repeating every three years. 

 

Photo by Karina Vorozheeva.