HPV is an infection caused by the Human Papillomavirus. There are more than 200 different strains of HPV, most of which the immune system identifies and eliminates before they do any harm. However, certain strains of HPV are a risk factor for developing cervical cancer.
Exposure to HPV is common, with more than 80% of women coming into contact with the virus at some point in their life. For this reason, HPV vaccination is an essential part of preventing cervical cancer, and testing for HPV should be part of every woman’s health screening program.
HPV types 6 and 11 are low-risk for cervical cancer but may cause genital warts. HPV types 16 and 18 are the highest risk strains and are most likely to cause cervical cancer.
HPV spreads through direct contact between your skin and the skin of someone carrying the infection. You can catch genital HPV through sexual contact with another person, via vaginal, oral, or anal sex, or any other skin-to-skin contact.
In most cases, your body’s immune system eliminates the virus without you being aware you have the infection, as there are usually no symptoms. If you have a condition or take medication that weakens your immune system, you’re more likely to develop cervical cancer from HPV infection. Smoking and having multiple sexual partners also put you at an increased risk.
Limiting the number of sexual partners you have and practicing safe sex reduces the risk of infection, but doesn’t eliminate all risk. There is a vaccine available to protect against HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18. The vaccine is most effective if given from the age of nine, before first sexual contact. The vaccine also helps prevent infection in older people, and now has FDA approval for use in people up to 45 years old.
HPV is detected with a Pap test. A Pap test is taken to check for changes in the cervical cells, and it’s a simple process to test for HPV infection at the same time.
If you’re concerned about HPV and worried you are carrying the virus, you can have a separate HPV test. For both the Pap test and HPV test, Dr. Ronen takes a sample of cells from your cervix during a pelvic exam and sends it to a lab for testing.
Once Dr. Ronen receives the results, he contacts you to discuss the findings. If there’s any cause for concern, he advises you on the best course of action.
To book an appointment for a Pap or HPV test, call Dr. Ronen OB/GYN or use the online booking tool.