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The HPV Cervical Cancer Connection

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Updated June 11, 2014

Twenty-four million Americans may have the human papillomavirus (HPV), yet more than 76 percent of women in the United States have never heard of this sexually transmitted virus which causes virtually 100 percent of all cervical cancers.

Scientists have discovered over sixty types of the human papillomavirus virus. Visible genital warts occur in only about one percent of sexually active adults infected with the HPV virus, while other types of HPV are subclinical infections. The types of HPVs that cause genital warts are not associated with increased cancer risks and are caused by HPV types 6 and 11. HPV types 16, 18, 31, 33, and 35 are linked to cervical cancer. These high-risk HPVs may also be linked to increased risk of cancers of the vulva, anus, and bladder.

What are the Symptoms of HPV and Genital Warts?

Often, unless genital warts are located in a spot where you can see or feel them, you may not know you are infected. Genital warts sometimes go undetected because they are inside the vagina, on the cervix, or in the anus.

HPV is frequently difficult to detect because genital warts are often skin colored and painless, and rarely causes symptoms. You should consult your physician anytime you notice unusual growths, bumps, or other skin anomalies, as well as if you experience itching, pain, or abnormal bleeding.

Diagnosing HPV...

Genital warts or HPV viruses are sometimes detected during your annual GYN examination, however the Pap smear is not a screening tool for HPV or any other STD or infection. Although most HPVs do not progress to cancer, it is especially important for women diagnosed with HPVs to have regular Pap smears.

While the Pap smear is not designed to detect HPV (only abnormal cervical changes) abnormal changes may indicate HPV infection or another vaginal infection. Your physician will order either a follow up screening procedure such as a colposcope or follow you closely to detect any further cervical changes when abnormal Pap results are obtained.

If your Pap smear result indicates dysplasia, it's important to note that cervical dysplasia does not mean cervical cancer. However cervical dysplasia is thought to be a precursor condition for carcinoma in situ (CIS) and invasive cancer of the cervix. Many cases of dysplasia regress over time, and the factors that lead to progression to invasive cervical cancer remain unclear.

In CIS, an outer layer of normal cells is replaced by cancer cells. CIS is about 95 percent treatable and curable. Invasive cancer of the cervix occurs when cancer cells invade the underlying tissues of the cervix. CIS generally occurs in women between 25 and 34, while invasive cancer of the cervix primarily occurs in women over the age of fifty.

The prognosis for invasive cervical cancer is largely dependent on the extent of disease at the time of initial diagnosis. The current death rate for cervical cancer remains higher than it should be due to the approximately one-third of women who do not have regular annual Pap smears. An astonishing 90 percent of cervical cancer deaths could be eliminated through earlier detection with the Pap smear.

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