19 Things you Need to Know about HPV

You may have heard the term HPV but know nothing about it. Here is a quick bluffer’s guide with all you should know, followed by a list of further resources.

1) Human papillomavirus or HPV is contracted via direct skin-to-skin touching. However it is not transferred to another person via the blood. It infects males and females and is a very common infection that is often transmitted sexually.

2) It is known as a silent infection because there is usually an absence of symptoms. The body can hold off this virus for years and years before any sign or symptom occurs.

3) Infection with the human papilloma virus is one of the main risk factors for cervical cancer.

4) Several U.S. states are considering mandatory HPV vaccinations. As of February 2007, only the state of Texas requires HPV vaccinations for girls. At least 18 other states and the District of Columbia have considered similar policies

5) Texas Governor Rick Perry, without legislative approval, issued an executive order on 2 February 2007 mandating Gardasil(HPV Vaccine) be given to all school girls entering sixth grade, beginning September 2008. Adding to the criticism of Perry’s order is Merck’s campaign contributions to Rick Perry and what is viewed by some as a high price of the vaccine which is approximately $US360 in Texas. It being a patent-protected vaccine, Merck is the sole producer of Gardasil.

6) For maximal effectiveness, Gardasil injections nned to be given in three doses over a sixmonth period to women who have had no prior exposure to the four strains of the viruses from which it offers protection. It offers no protection from the other of the 100 or so cervical cancer-causing HPV strains.

7) Estimated mortality rate for Cervical Cancer from incidence and deaths statistics: (SEER Cancer Statistics Review 1975-2000, National Cancer Institute)

    * Deaths: 4,599 (USA annual deaths calculated from this data: approximately 4,600 women will die in 2001 (DSTD))
    * Incidence: 13,000 (USA annual incidence calculated from this data: 13,000 annual cases in USA (SEER 2002 estimate)
    * 35.4% (ratio of deaths to incidence).

8) There are over 60 known forms of the Human papilloma virus but only a few of them are known to cause cancer. Notably, if you have had genital warts caused by HPV then you need to be vigilant with your smear (pap) tests.

9) A woman may not notice any symptoms of cervical cancer until it is in its advanced stages, which means that if you have the opportunity to get tested, then do so regularly.

10) If you ever had Chlamydia, then you are at a higher risk of getting cervical cancer.

11) Genital warts are not a symptom of cervical cancer. They are unrelated, but it is thought that if they are caused by HPV then there is an increased risk

12) Cervical cancer can take years to develop, or it may be very quick. They key is to make sure that you see your doctor regularly and get your annual checkups done. The good thing is that if it is caught early it is treatable.

13) If you are an African American woman then compared to Caucasian women you are twice as likely to get cervical cancer. You’re also likely to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage.

14) Early detection is one of the most important factors that determines how successful the treatment will be, so screening is essential. The main for of screening you should aim to do every year is a pap smear test.

15) Hysterectomy is one of the treatment options for cervical cancer, but it is usually one of the last choices because of the long term effects of such a major surgery.

16) Radiation therapy and surgery are likely to be part of your cervical cancer treatment plan. Usually they are done in combination where the surgery is performed to remove the tumor and the area is then treated with radiation to kill any possible remaining cancer cells.

17) The risk of cervical cancer does not disappear with the menopause. In fact there is no change in the risk profile at all.

18) Cervical cancer is more likely to be diagnosed in older women, but it is also likely to be far more advanced, so make sure to start screening yourself early.

19) If Cervical cancer has spread outside the reproductive tract there is only a 5 percent chance of a successful outcome. If it is discovered and treated before the invasive cancer has spread beyond the tract the chances of a successful outcome are over 95 per cent. Pap smear tests should be done regularly!

More Resources:

U.S. National Cancer Institute: Cervical Cancer

OncoLink, an excellent resource set up by the Abramson Cancer Center of The University of Pennsylvania.

The National Cervical Cancer coalition website

CDC There are free or low cost pap smear tests available for through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP). Go to this website to find details of your local program.

Jo’s Trust– registered charity dedicated to women, their families and friends affected by pre-cancer and cancer of the cervix.

National Cervical Cancer Campaign