Here’s the bad news: Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted virus that can cause us cervical and possibly vaginal and vulvar cancers, as well as genital warts, and it is much more common than most women realize. It is predicted that 80% of sexually active people will be infected with HPV at some point in their life. There are over 150 different types of HPV, most of which will not cause us problems; however, there are certain HPV types that can cause cervical and possibly vaginal and vulvar pre-cancer and cancers. For instance, HPV types 16 and 18 accounts for nearly 70% of cervical cancers and HPV types 6 and 11 account for 90% of genital warts. Seven Oaks Women’s Center offers HPV testing.
So what’s the good news? We can do something to protect ourselves and our loved ones from being infected by HPV. In the United States, there are 3 approved HPV vaccines, of which, Seven Oaks carries the vaccine that covers the most HPV types: Gardasil 9. This vaccine protects us from the most common types of HPV to cause cervical cancer and genital warts.
As of 2019, most insurance companies have extended the coverage of the HPV vaccine to women ages 9-45 (previously, the vaccine was only offered to women up to the age of 26). The vaccine is a 3 shot series with the second vaccine given 1-2 months after the first and the third vaccine is given 6 months after the first. If a woman has previously received any of the vaccines in the series but has not yet completed the series by the recommended time intervals, it is not recommended to restart the vaccine series, but rather just finish it.
Studies have already demonstrated the dramatic effect this vaccine has on reducing the number of HPV infections and subsequent cervical cancers that we see, not just in the United States, but worldwide. If you have not been vaccinated, we encourage you to do so as soon as possible. Please ask your provider more about how you can be vaccinated today!
If your Pap test shows abnormal cells, additional tests may be performed. These tests include:
Colposcopy: A colposcopy closely examines the vagina, vulva, and cervix by using a lighted magnifying instrument called a colposcope.
LEEP (Loop Electro-Surgical Excision Procedure): A small electrical wire loop is used to remove tissue and precancerous cells from the cervix.
Conization: Also known as a cone biopsy, conization removes a cone-shaped section of precancerous tissue high in the cervix to provide a biopsy sample for laboratory examination to tell if cancer is present.
HPV Treatment Options
Although there is no treatment for the virus itself, the cell changes caused by HPV (ex: warts) can be treated. Pre-cancer cell changes can be also identified beforehand by Pap tests and treated. HPV vaccines can prevent infection with the types of HPV most likely to cause cancer and genital warts, although the vaccines are most effective when given at a younger age. Consider having HPV testing at your next appointment.
HPV infections can go away on their own with the help of your immune system and in most cases, it can clear within 18 to 24 months.
Contact Seven Oaks Women’s Center to discuss the options you have available.