Infection with high-risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV), the cause of cervical
cancer, is common. By the age of 50, 80% of women will have had an HPV infection with
one or more of 14 high-risk HPV types. Most infections are cleared within 24 months. If
the virus isn't cleared and persists, cells may become moderately or severely abnormal
(also called pre-cancer). The purpose of screening by Pap and/or HPV testing is to find
and then treat pre-cancer to prevent cancer from occurring.
Get the answers to these commonly asked questions about HPV, cervical cancer and
cervical cancer screening.
Yes. Infection of the cervix with HPV does not cause symptoms and having
screening by HPV testing and/or Pap testing is the only way to know if the virus
is present or whether cells are abnormal. Even if you have cervical cancer, you
may not have symptoms until the disease is more advanced. Screening tests are
the key to finding abnormal cell changes in otherwise-healthy people. You should
not wait until you have symptoms to get screened.
Yes. HPV is a skin cell virus that can be spread through skin-to-skin contact,
and the most common way the virus gets to the cervix is through male to female
intercourse. Women who have sex with women can also get HPV and should follow
the same guidelines for screening as the general population. Using condoms can
lower your risk of getting HPV and HPV-related diseases, but they do not get rid
of the risk completely, since condoms do not cover the entire genital area.
Also, you still need to be screened for HPV if you’re not currently sexually
active. HPV testing is meant to find old infections that were never cleared,
because the risk for cells to become abnormal increases the longer the virus
stays in the cells.
Yes. Current vaccines protect against nine types of HPV, and seven of those can
cause cancer. Despite this, the vaccines do not protect against all types that
cause cervical cancer. Therefore, it is still important for vaccinated people
who have a cervix to be routinely screened for cervical cancer.
Yes. HPV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that is commonly spread
through vaginal, anal or oral sex and is not directly affected by family
history, so a lack of a family history of cervical cancer is also not a
predictor of cervical cancer or HPV status and is not a reason to skip
screening. HPV is so common that almost every sexually active person will get it
at some time in their life. This is why getting vaccinated is so important.
No. Both men and women can contract HPV, but there are currently no FDA-approved
tests to screen for HPV in men. According to the CDC, most sexually active men
and women will have at least one HPV infection at some point in their lives and
any person who has close, skin-to-skin contact with another person who has an
HPV infection can get the infection as well.
Yes. Pap tests (also called pap smears) specifically look for abnormal cells or
pre-cancer in the cervix caused by HPV. If not treated, these abnormal cells
could progress to cervical cancer. The HPV test specifically looks for high-risk
types of HPV. The Pap test and HPV test can be done together (called a co-test)
or they can each be done alone as part of your cervical cancer screening.
No. When a Pap test comes back as “abnormal,” this means that the appearance of
cells in the sample shows changes that are graded as mild, moderate or severely
abnormal. A positive HPV test only means that you have the virus that can cause
cervical cancer — not that it has or definitely will. HPV is so common that
almost every sexually active person will get it at some time in their life. Most
people will clear the virus from their bodies naturally and few will go on to
No. Unfortunately, cervical cancer may still be a concern for people who are
older than 65. You should speak with your healthcare provider (HCP) about how
often you should get screened and until what age. Current recommendations allow
women who have been adequately screened and have not had any abnormal screening
in the previous 10 years to stop screening at age 65. Women who have been
treated for pre-cancer or cancer need follow-up for 25 years after, regardless
of their age.
Most likely. Many Doctors will contact you if you receive an abnormal result.
However, if you don't hear from your HCP within a few weeks, call and ask for
your test results. Make sure you receive your results and understand any
follow-up visits or treatments that might be necessary.
Yes. HPV can be contracted even if you’ve only had one partner. Nearly 20
million Americans get a sexually transmitted infection (STI) each year — and
it’s not only people who have multiple partners, sex outside of marriage or a
different lifestyle who are at risk. Anyone who is sexually active or ever has
been sexually active is at risk of having HPV, and screening is important no
matter how many partners you’ve had.
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