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What Is HPV?

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What is HPV?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name for a family of around 120 strains of sexually transmitted virus. The majority of these strains cause no symptoms in most people. Some strains can cause genital warts. Other strains are responsible for skin warts and verrucas, anal and vaginal cancer and cervical cancer.

Is HPV common?

HPV is extremely common. 80% of women will get some strain of HPV by the time the reach their fifties. Most cases of HPV are asymptomatic.

Is HPV a serious danger to my health?

It can be. There are many strains of HPV. Some show no symptoms, whilst others can cause warts or veruccas. HPV can, however, cause some types of cancer. Around 5% of global cancer cases are attributable to HPV making it one of the largest infectious causes of cancer.

What types of cancer is caused by HPV?

HPV is usually associated with cervical cancer as it is the main cause of that particular type of cancer. It can also be responsible for anal cancer, vulvar cancer, vaginal cancer, and penile cancer as well as HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer (OSCC), a form of head and neck cancer.

What are HPV symptoms?

Most strains of HPV are asymptomatic, meaning they display no symptoms at all. Some strains cause warts or veruccas, which are small noncancerous skin growths. Genital warts are caused by a strain of the HPV virus and can be easily diagnosed and treated by a doctor. Strains of HPV that cause cancer generally do not produce any symptoms.

If there are no symptoms how do I know if I have HPV?

You don’t. Therefore it is extremely important to be tested regularly for HPV-caused cancers.

What is the standard HPV test?

The Papanicolaou test (also called Pap smear, Pap test, cervical smear, or smear test)is the test used to screen for endocervical cancer in women. There is no test for HPV itself, only the cancers that it can sometimes cause.

Can HPV be cured?

Yes. Whilst there is no medication that can cure HPV, in a lot of cases your body will rid itself of the virus naturally. This can often take 1 to 2 years from the first infection.

Is there any way to protect myself from HPV infection?

There is a vaccination for HPV using a drug called Gardasil that is recommended for young, sexually active people. The vaccination helps protect against a range of HPV strains including the ones that cause genital warts and cervical cancer.

Where can I get the HPV vaccination?

Ask your local GP or go to a GUM (Genito-Urinary Medicine) clinic. In the UK there is now a vaccination programme delivered in schools to girls aged 12-13.

Is the vaccine dangerous?

The vaccine has not been shown to be dangerous. The side effects are local reactions: pain at the site, a bit of bruising, a bit of discomfort, a bit of swelling. You might feel a bit dizzy or faint.




10594 March 2012

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