HPV: Testing, Treatment, Screening and Vaccines For Women

With over 13,000 new cases of cervical cancer occurring each year, the importance of early screening is obvious. ­­­Cervical cancer is easy to treat when it’s caught early, and it’s even possible to take pre-emptive action before cells become cancerous. Certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) cause cervical cells to change and become malignant. Understanding HPV, HPV testing, and proper screening schedules is important for every woman’s reproductive health.

The human papillomavirus

HPV is a common virus that infects most people at some point in their lives. With about 100 different variations, HPV can have a range of different effects, most of which are relatively harmless.

Some strains of HPV, however, infect the genital regions of both women and men. HPV can cause genital warts or noncancerous cell changes. Only a few can cause cancer, and usually then only after they’ve been present for many years.

Genital HPV is usually transmitted through sexual contact, and generally these strains don’t spread to other parts of the body. Likewise, HPV infections that cause warts on your feet and hands won’t spread to the genitals or cause cervical cell changes.

HPV testing

Usually combined with a Pap test, HPV tests use a small sample of cells from your cervix which are then screened for the high-risk HPV strains. There is now an HPV test that can be done separately, without a Pap test, and it can be used as the primary screening method for cervical cancer.

HPV treatment

There’s currently no way to treat HPV on its own, but the conditions that HPV can cause are largely easy to treat, particularly in the early stages. For example, precancerous cervical cells can be removed, reducing the chance of cancer developing later. Genital warts can also be treated successfully.

HPV screening

Current guidelines recommend HPV testing for women over the age of 30, either with an HPV test alone or in combination with a Pap smear. Pap tests alone can still be used successfully to screen for cervical cancer. The most common reason for an abnormal Pap test is the presence of abnormal squamous cells. While this only accompanies the presence of HPV about half the time, it can indicate if further testing for cervical cancer is needed.

HPV vaccines

Vaccinating girls and boys around the age of 11 or 12 is effective for preventing infections from many strains of HPV. The vaccine is also recommended for young people up to the age of 26 in some cases.

While HPV is not a virus that will likely alert you to its presence, it can have serious effects on your health if it remains undetected. Contact the most convenient location of Capital Women's Care, in Arlington or McLean, Virginia, if you have any questions regarding HPV or cervical cancer. You can click the “request appointment” button or call one of the offices to schedule a visit.

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