HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) and Cancer
- Human papilloma virus (HPV) can cause changes to the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer.
- HPV is not a new virus, but we are learning more about this virus.
- The kind of HPV that causes cervical and other cancers is not the same type of HPV that causes genital warts.
- Most people who have ever had sex have had HPV at some time in their lives.
- In women who do become infected with HPV, the body is often able to fight the infection. However, if the virus does not go away, it may cause cervix cells to change and become pre-cancer cells.
- Most of the time, HPV goes away by itself within two years and does not cause health problems. It is thought that the immune system fights off HPV naturally. It is only when HPV stays in the body for many years that it can cause these cancers. It is not known why HPV goes away in most, but not all cases. There is no way to know which people will go on to develop cancer or other health problems.
How does HPV lead to cervical cancer?
HPV is spread through sex, and it can cause an infection in the cervix. The infection usually doesn’t last very long because your body is able to fight the infection. If the HPV doesn’t go away, the virus may cause cervix cells to change and become pre-cancer cells. Pre-cancer cells are not cancer. Most cells with early pre-cancer changes return to normal on their own. Sometimes, the pre-cancer cells may turn into cancer if they are not found and treated.
Very few HPV infections lead to cervical cancer.
Who can get cervical cancer?
Because HPV is so common, any woman who has ever had sex can get cervical cancer. But, most women who get HPV do not get cervical cancer. Women who have their Pap tests as often as they should are least likely to get cervical cancer.
Some women have a greater chance of getting cervical cancer if they:
- Have HPV and it doesn’t go away
- Have HIV or AIDS
Women who do not have Pap tests at all or who do not have them as often as they should have the greatest chance of getting cervical cancer.
Can HPV lead to other cancers besides cervical cancer?
Other HPV-related cancers include cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and head and neck. These cancers might not cause signs or symptoms until they are advanced and hard to treat.
How is HPV treated?
There is no treatment for the type of HPV that causes cervix cell changes, but most HPV infections go away without treatment. Antibiotics or other medicines do not treat HPV.
There are treatments for the cell changes in the cervix that HPV can cause. If your Pap test shows cervix changes, your doctor or nurse will discuss these treatments with you, if you need them.
Reference: American Cancer Society