Woman's Health Centers

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Important Information About Cervical Cancer

What Causes Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer is a progressive disease caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). Because the cervix opens in the vagina, it is vulnerable to bacteria and viruses that may travel up the vagina and gather at the mouth of the cervix, sometimes causing sexually transmitted diseases. HPV is the most common of these diseases. Some types of HPV infection lead to cervical cell changes, called dysplasia. Dysplasia may eventually advance to cancer.

Am I At Risk?

Almost all sexually active women run some risk of contracting HPV and subsequently, cervical cancer. For this reason, all sexually active women should be screened periodically, particularly within the first two years after initiating a new sexual relationship. More frequently screening may be necessary if a routine exam reveals early cervical changes or if signs of inflammation are evident.

What Is HPV?

Human Papillomavirus is the virus that causes warts. To date, more than 68 different types of human papillomaviruses have been identified. Twenty three different types of HPV have been identified that infect the genital region of men and women. These various HPV types are associated with a range of genital diseases, from the common genital wart, Condyloma, to invasive cancer to the cervix.

How Is Genital HPV Spread?

As with all warts, genital HPV is spread through direct skin to skin contact. It is not transmitted through blood or body fluids. Genital HPV targets the moist mucous membranes surrounding the genitals. The most common form of transmission is direct contact between the infected skin on the penis, scrotum, vagina, vulva, or anus and the uninfected skin in the same areas of the partner’s body.

How Do I Know If I Have HPV?

Recognition of HPV can be difficult. Many people with HPV are asymptomatic, and the latency period for HPV (the time from date of infection to actual development of HPV) may be many months to years. Sometimes, you or your health – care provider may see the HPV lesions. If your sexual partner has a definitive diagnosis, then you are likely to be carrying the virus as well. Without a visual confirmation of the disease, HPV may be identified through viral screening. Sometimes, the Pap Smear will show changes indicative of HPV.