The HPV cervical cancer connection
What is the HPV?
The HPV or Human Papilloma Virus is a common viral infection transmitted sexually. The majority of the people carry HPV without getting to know it. There are more than 100 different types of HPV, 13 of which are considered high-risk types since they were shown to have a cause-and-effect relation with cervical cancer. Certain other types of HPV can cause warts on genitals. Though these warts have no connection with cancer they are warning signals for your physician showing that you have a possible HPV-infection on your cervix.
What is Papanicolau-test (or Pap-smear)?
Papanicolau-test („vaginal citology”) is a screening test to detect early changes of the cervix that shows the risk of cervical cancer when left untreated. The test is performed on the small cell sample collected from the cervix they are screened using a light microscope for abnormal cells implying a problem. If abnormal cells were found you may be recalled to repeat the examination or perform colposcopy (the colposcope is a special instrument that enables the physician to have a magnified view of the surface of cervix).
What is HPV’s role in the development of cervical cancer?
Most people get infected with HPV during their lifetime but the virus disappears on his own from their body within a couple of months (just like other viruses, e.g. cold or influenza). However in some women the virus doesn’t disappear from the body so they have an increased risk for cervix disorders. The active HPV infection may lead to cellular necrosis that may lead to cervical cancer if left untreated.
Can we detect HPV?
Yes, our test can detect the presence of high-risk HPV-types before any visibly changes on the cervical cells providing a much earlier possibility to screen women threatened by cervical cancer.
The positive HPV-test doesn’t mean that you are going to have cervical cancer but it informs you about the infection threatening your life anyway and encourages your physician to follow up closely your condition. So the smallest symptom of a developing disease can be noticed sooner to enable successful treatment. On the other hand your negative HPV-test result provides reassurance that the risk of cervical cancer is negligible.
If you have a negative Pap-smear result and a negative HPV-test result you can be 99% sure that you won’t have cervical cancer in the next 5 years.
How is sample collected for HPV-test?
The sample is collected the same way as Pap-smear – they collect a cell sample from the cervix. The sample is placed into a liquid preservative for delivery to the lab.
Are both the HPV-test and Pap-smear necessary?
As the science stands today the most effective method for the early detection of cervical cancer is Pap-smear and HPV-test together. This combined method is capable to screen about 97% of severe cervical changes. A negative Pap-smear result combined with a negative HPV-test result means you can be 99% sure that you have a minimal risk of the presence or development of cervical cancer so you can continue with the regular check-ups.
What is of equal importance is that HPV-test result gives you additional information regarding to any abnormalities detected in Pap-smear. We have a lot of experiences showing that these abnormalities usually disappear on their own but until now we didn’t have any method to decide in which case the patient would recover and in which case the symptoms would get worse. The HPV-test may give us this information especially in case of low grade changes when 97% of the cases disappear on their own if HPV-test is negative. This information will be very useful for your physician and may set your mind at rest, too.
- the HPV is a very common virus,
- cervical cancer is extremely rare
- if cell abnormality is detected in time the treatment is 100% effective.