How Does HPV Cause Cervical Cancer

Recent advances have revealed that “HPV is the virus that leads to cervical cancer.” Many relevant research programs are held to know in detail about the virus and its course of disease. The leading risk factor for cervical cancer is HPV. Although HPV contributes to cervical cancer, many other factors may also be attributable. Risk factors include sexual behavior, i.e., the number of sexual partners, smoking, long-term oral contraceptive use etc.

Natural history of cervical cancer related to HPV

The cervix is the narrow lower region that opens into the vagina. During sexual intercourse, the cervical epithelium gets infected by HPV and this causes the initiation of development of cervical cancer. This infection can be successfully cleared in some women due to self-developed immune system. But in some, it does not happen. It may be because of the weakened immune system and due to the presence of HIV or other immunocompromised diseases, reinfection, genetic predisposition, and changes in hormonal levels that influence the ability to remove this HPV infection.

What percent of people with HPV get cancer?

It is the second most common cancer in women followed by breast cancer. There is no evidence that all the people with HPV are prone to cancer. According to previous studies, only 30 out of 100 people with HPV experience cervical or genital cancer.

Is HPV contagious?

It is a highly contagious disease. HPV is transmitted through sexual contact. It also suppresses the immune system. It takes 15 – 20 years for cervical cancer to develop in women with the healthy immune system, but takes only 5-10 years in women with weakened immune systems.

HPV vaccine for prevention

HPV vaccination can reduce the risk of cervical cancer. Cervarix, Gardasil, and Gardasil 9  are the three vaccines available for vaccination in women. Among these, Gardasil and Gardasil 9 also targets genital warts. They are effective if you get vaccinated before becoming sexually active and exposed to HPV.

There is a myth that only women are exposed to HPV, but it is also common in men. Women can get vaccinated to protect themselves from cancer; and men should get vaccinated to protect themselves and also their partners. If you vaccinate men against HPV, then he is far less likely to transmit the virus to his sexual partner.  These vaccines are recommended for ages 11-12 and up to age 21.

Screening tests available for cervical cancer:

Most of the HPV infections and precancerous lesions are self-limiting. However, every woman with HPV infection is at risk of developing cervical cancer.

Screening tests help for early identification of cervical cancer and they include.
  • Pap test, also called as Pap smear
  • Liquid-based cytology
  • HPV testing for high-risk HPV types
  • Visual inspection with acetic acid

Having cervical cancer does not mean that your life is coming to an end. It’s hard to overcome, but it doesn’t imply that it is incurable. The chances of survival and quality of life can be improved through early detection.

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