HPV, which is transmitted during sexual contact with the infected individual, is the main culprit behind cervical cancer. More than 40 different types of HPV have been identified till now and all these types are capable of infecting the genital regions of both men and women. In many cases, individuals infected with HPV don't even know that they
have been infected, as this condition may not be associated with any symptoms at all in numerous cases.
The good news is that in 90% of the affected individuals, the HPV is cleared by our body's immune system within a span of 2 years naturally. However, the possibility of a severe infection associated with symptoms or the occurrence of cancer cannot be predicted in all individuals. Further, in many women, HPV is not cleared by the body's immune system and may continue to exist. In such cases, there is a possibility that the HPV may eventually induce cancerous changes in the cervix of the women, where it usually resides.
This makes HPV infection an important disorder which needs to be identified and treated when necessary. Additionally, an infected individual can unknowingly infect others who have sexual relation with him/her.
HPV and Cervical Cancer
HPV has been reported to be the cause of almost all cervical cancers being detected every day. Further, HPV has been linked with 40% of the vulval cancer and 70% of the vaginal cancers. Thus, the link between HPV and cancer of the genital region is well established and the risk is quite high.
A study was conducted among women to evaluate the knowledge about HPV and its association with this cancer. The study included both, women known to be infected by the virus, and women who were not.
It was noted that while several women in both groups included in the study knew about the risk of cervical cancer, most didn't know about the relation at all. It was thus concluded that while the infected women do make an attempt to know more about their condition, other women do not. As the risk of cervical cancer is high among sexually active women, they should know about the virus.
Another fact that was noted in both the groups was that, none of the women knew that a PAP smear (also known as Papanicolaou test) could detect the presence of this cancer. PAP smear is a common in-office procedure where a sample of the cells, outside and just inside the cervix, is collected using a small spatula. This sample is sent for microscopic examination, which can easily detect the presence of cancerous cells.
The authors of the study concluded that most women are not aware of the risk of HPV associated cervical cancer and the methods of diagnosing cervical cancer. This is an alarming finding as the number of women being diagnosed with cervical cancer is becoming more common than before.
So, if you are sexually active, or are above 21 years of age, discuss with your healthcare provider about the risk of HPV infection. Also, it is advisable to undergo a periodic checkup (PAP smear) to check for cervical cancer.