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About Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

What is HPV?

HPV stands for human papillomavirus. This is a very common virus that most people will come into contact with at some time during their lives. 

There are different types of the virus and most do not cause any problems.   

Only certain types of HPV cause cervical cancer.  These are called high-risk types.

Cervical screening tests for high-risk HPV.

Almost all cervical cancers (more than 99.8%) are caused by one or more high-risk type of HPV.

If you have cell changes caused by the virus, these may need to be treated in a colposcopy clinic. 

What does the virus do?

In most people, HPV does not cause any problems, as the body will get rid of the virus on its own.

High-risk types of HPV can cause changes in the cells of the cervix. These cell changes are called cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN). In some cases cell changes can go back to normal, but sometimes they can get worse and become cervical cancer.

If you smoke your body’s immune system is weaker. This makes it much more difficult for your body to get rid of the virus.

Smoking doubles the risk of cervical cancer.  Visit the Help Me Quit website for support in stopping smoking.

How do I get HPV?

HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact. For HPV in the cervix, this is through sexual contact. You can get HPV from any kind of sex or sexual touching.  This can be with a man or a woman.

Using condoms can reduce your risk, but does not give you complete protection, although condoms do protect against other infections.

How do I know if I have HPV?

Cervical screening is important because the virus does not usually cause any symptoms, even if there are cell changes on the cervix. 

HPV can lie dormant (sleeping) for many years and may never cause any cell changes. If it is found on a screening test, we cannot say how long it has been there. The virus might cause cell changes many years later.

About HPV vaccination

Everyone aged 12-13 is offered the HPV vaccination.  However, it is possible to develop cell changes despite having had the vaccine. People who have been vaccinated should still go for cervical screening when invited.

Some cervical cancers are caused by different HPV types than the vaccine covers. This means that the vaccine cannot prevent every case.

More information on the vaccine is available here or via Jo’s cervical cancer trust.

Frequently Asked Questions.

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