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Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Cervical CancerBy: Dr. Lois Ramondetta
Many women are unaware that a condition called human papillomavirus (HPV) is linked to cervical cancer. Becoming educated about HPV could help prevent cervical cancer if women follow through with recommended annual pap tests and seek treatment for the virus.
Lois Ramondetta, M.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Gynecologic Oncology at M. D. Anderson, addresses the subject below by answering common HPV questions.
What is the human papillomavirus (HPV)?The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name for a group of more than 100 viral subtypes, many of which can be contracted through sexual contact. HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the United States. According to the American Social Health Association, approximately 5.5 million new cases of sexually transmitted HPV infections are reported every year. At least 20 million Americans are already infected. Some types of HPV can cause abnormal tissue growth in the form of warts (papillomas). Some HPVs are associated with certain cancers and precancerous conditions.
What is the connection between HPV and cancer?Most cases of HPV are low-risk and rarely develop into cancer. Certain high-risk HPVs develop into cancer.
If you have high-risk HPV, does that mean you have cancer?A small percentage of women with HPV get cervical cancer if the precancerous ("dysplastic") cells are not removed. High-risk HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer. In fact, HPV is linked to about 95% of cervical cancer cases.
What are the risk factors for developing cancer as a result of HPV?*Smoking
*Having numerous sexual partners without using protection
*Being infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
*Suppression of the immune system due to some other cause, such as transplant or lack of follow-up for pap smears
What are possible symptoms of HPV?*Most often there are no symptoms
*Warts on the genitals or anus which could appear several weeks, months or even years after sexual contact with a person with HPV
*Growths that are often flat and nearly invisible
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