Facts about HPV & Cervical Cancer

Cervical Health Awareness Month

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and your Capital Women’s Care healthcare team wants to share important facts with you about Human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer.

We outline pertinent information concerning HPV and its direct link to cervical cancer risk, how HPV infection occurs, and important screening and vaccination measures you can implement within your personal health plan to protect your cervical health.

What is HPV?

Some facts about HPV:

  • HPV is a group of 100+ viruses usually spread through sexual contact.

  • HPV infection is extremely common. There are 14 million-plus new infections estimated in the U.S. each year. There are about 79 million people within the U.S. currently infected.

  • It can take weeks, months or years for symptoms to show up or the virus is detected, making it impossible to determine when infection occurred or identify infection source.

  • 80+ percent of sexually active men and women will become infected during their lifetime.

  • Most new infections occur in teens and young adults.

  • HPV is the primary cause of cervical cancer. There are about a dozen strains of HPV identified that cause cervical cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, almost 14,500 new cases of invasive cervical cancer are estimated for 2021, with 4,300 women expected to die from cervical cancer this year alone.

  • HPV can also cause cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, mouth, and throat, plus genital warts.

  • The most common type of cancer currently caused by HPV is oropharyngeal (throat) cancer, found more commonly in men.

  • Individuals can spread HPV even if they have no symptoms and years have passed since becoming initially infected.

  • There’s currently no treatment for the virus itself. Healthcare providers do have many treatment options available to treat diseases caused by HPV.

Who Is at Risk for HPV Infection?

There are several known HPV risk factors. There’s greater risk of HPV infection if you:

  • have more sexual partners. Having sex with a partner who has had multiple sex partners also increases your risk.
  • are a teen or young adult. Common warts occur mostly in children. Genital warts occur most often in adolescents and young adults.
  • have a weakened immune system. People with weakened immune systems are at greater risk of HPV infections. Immune systems also can be weakened by HIV/AIDS or by immune system-suppressing drugs used after organ transplants.
  • have damaged skin. Punctured or opened areas of skin are more prone to develop common warts.
  • have direct contact. Touching another’s warts or not wearing protection before contacting surfaces exposed to HPV (public showers or swimming pools) might increase your HPV infection risks.

HPV Transmission

HPV is passed through sexual contact and is usually passed through genital-to-genital or genital-to-anal contact, even without penetration. It can also be less commonly transmitted by oral-to-genital contact.

Studies reveal male condoms can reduce HPV transmission to females, although condoms only protect the skin they cover.

Many exposed to this common infection don’t realize they have it because it can take weeks, months or even years after exposure before symptoms develop or the virus is detected. This can lead to unknowing virus spread.  It is important for women to get appropriate screening to protect and safeguard cervical health and HPV vaccines for all boys and girls as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC.)

HPV Vaccination

HPV vaccines can help prevent infection from both high-risk HPV types that can lead to cervical cancer and low risk types that cause genital warts.

The CDC recommends all boys and girls get the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12 years, but vaccination is available through age 26 years. The vaccine produces a stronger immune system response when given during the preteen years. For this reason, up until boys and girls are age 14 years, only 2 doses of the vaccine are required. Young women and men can get the vaccine up to age 26 years, but for those 15 years of age and older, a full 3-dose series is needed.

Screening

The current cervical cancer screening guidelines by the CDC recommends getting pap tests beginning at age 21. If pap test result is normal, your doctor may tell you that you can wait 3 years until your next pap test.

The CDC further iterates that if you are between ages 30 to 65 years, you should talk with your doctor about determining which one of the following testing options is right for you:

  • A pap test only. If your result is normal, your doctor may tell you that you can wait 3 years until your next pap test.
  • An HPV test only. This is called primary HPV testing. If your result is normal, your doctor may tell you that you can wait 5 years until your next screening test.
  • An HPV test along with the pap test. This is called co-testing. If both results are normal, your doctor may tell you that you can wait 5 years until your next screening test.

If you are 65 or older, your doctor may tell you that you don’t need to be screened anymore if you:

  • have had normal screening test results for several years, or
  • have had your cervix removed as part of a total hysterectomy for non-cancerous conditions, like fibroids.

Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers today. In most cases cervical cancer can be prevented through early detection and treatment of abnormal cell changes occurring in the cervix years before the development of cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of cancer death for American women. The cervical cancer death rate has dropped significantly with increased use of the pap test, a screening procedure that can find changes in the cervix before cancer develops. The pap test can also find cervical cancers in early stages, when it's small and easier to cure. Today, cervical pre-cancers are diagnosed far more often than invasive, later-stage cervical cancer.

In recent years, the HPV test has been approved as another screening test for cervical cancer since almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV. The HPV test looks for infection by high-risk types of HPV virus that are more likely to cause pre-cancers and cervical cancers.

The HPV test can be used alone (primary HPV test) or at the same time as the pap test (called a co-test).

While HPV tests are invaluable screening aids for cervical cancer, they don’t indicate how long the virus has been present or if you’re able to transmit HPV to a new sexual partner.

More than 50% of U.S. women who get cervical cancer have never had or rarely had a pap test. The bottom line: regular screening tests can prevent cervical cancer.

Who Is at Risk for Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer is most frequently diagnosed in women between the ages of 35 and 44. The average age is 50 years at time of diagnosis. It rarely develops in women younger than 20. Many older women don’t realize the risk of developing cervical cancer continues, even as they age. More than 20% of cases of cervical cancer occur in women 65+ years. However, these cancers rarely occur in women who have been getting regular cervical cancer screening tests before age 65.

Risk for cervical cancer increases if you:

  • are infected with 1 of a dozen strains of HPV virus identified to increase cervical cancer risk.
  • have a family history of cervical cancer, which doubles or triples your personal cervical cancer risk.
  • are diagnosed with either HIV or chlamydia infections.
  • smoke.
  • lack sufficient fruits and vegetables in your diet.
  • are overweight.
  • use oral contraceptives long-term (5 or more years.)
  • have had 3 or more full-term pregnancies.
  • were under age 17 years during your first full-term pregnancy.

HPV vaccination plus regular tests and screenings offer you the best protection against HPV infection and cervical cancer. Your Capital Women’s Care team of healthcare professionals are here to answer your questions and address your concerns relating to HPV and your cervical health or any other women’s health issue. Our community of expert doctors, practitioners and health specialists offer you comprehensive, quality care and treatment, so you can enjoy and achieve optimal health and a long, quality life.

Sources:

https://www.nccc-online.org//images/pdfs/10ThingsHPV_CCAM.pdf
https://www.nccc-online.org/?platform=hootsuite
https://www.nccc-online.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/HPV_CC_QA.pdf
https://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm
https://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/the-facts/default.htm
https://simplyhealth.today/6-silent-hpv-symptoms/?utm_source=%2Bhpv&utm_...
https://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/facts-brochures.htm
https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/human-pap...
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hpv-infection/symptoms-ca...
https://www.nfid.org/infectious-diseases/facts-about-human-papillomaviru...
https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/about/key-statistics.html
https://www.msm.edu/Research/research_centersandinstitutes/PRC/resources...
https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/pdf/Cervical_facts.pdf

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