HPV and Cervical Cancer: Connection, Prevention, and Treatment
Did you know that more than 99% of cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus, or HPV? HPV is most commonly transmitted through sexual contact and often does not present symptoms. There are over 150 different types of HPV that can lead to different issues, including warts, precancerous lesions, and cancer.
The types of HPV that more commonly cause cancer are known as high-risk HPVs. These are lasting infections that are not defeated by the immune system and cause changes to cells within the body. This change in cells can result in precancerous lesions or cervical, oral, vaginal, anal, or penile cancer. Cervical cancer is the most common type that develops from a lasting high-risk HPV infection.
Prevention of HPV and Cervical Cancer
Because of the strong connection between HPV and cervical cancer, avoiding HPV is one of the best steps for prevention. HPV can be spread through sex, but also any other skin-to-skin contact. Having multiple sex partners, having sex with an uncircumcised male, and having sex at a young age can increase the chances of infection.
Using condoms can also help you prevent against HPV. While they do not provide complete protection, men who use condoms are less likely to have HPV and less likely to pass the infection on to their partner. Female condoms can also help prevent the spread of HPV, but they are not as effective as traditional male condoms.
There is also a vaccine available that can prevent certain strains of HPV, including the most dangerous ones. It is important to note that these vaccines will not treat an already occurring infection. In order to be as effective as possible, the vaccine should be given before possible exposure. For women who choose to get the vaccine, it is given in a series of three injections over six months and has almost no side effects.
Finally, not smoking can reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer.
No matter what steps you’re taking to prevent HPV and cervical cancer, having a routine Pap test is extremely important. This is the most important test for detection because it can identify precancerous cells. This early detection can allow for the removal of these cells before they turn into cancer.
Treatments for HPV and Cervical Cancer
There is no treatment for HPV. For most people, the body’s immune system will fight off the virus on its own. However, there are treatment options for the issues that are caused by HPV, including cervical cancer. If you have genital warts caused by HPV, speak with your doctor to determine the next steps and how to avoid an increase in severity.
Cervical cancer treatment options include:
- Targeted therapy
The best method of treatment depends on how far the disease has progressed. Early stages of cervical cancer are typically fought with a combination of radiation and chemotherapy or surgery. As the disease becomes more severe, surgery may not be an option.
Speak with your gynecologist to determine whether or not you are being given the appropriate screenings and address any risk factors you may have in order to take control of your health and prevent HPV.