HPV: Human papilloma virus
WHAT IS HPV?
HPV is a common virus that affects most people at some point in their lifetime.
Around 100 types of HPV can affect different parts of the body, but most are harmless and go away on their own.
About 15 of these are considered “high-risk” and can cause abnormal cells to develop in the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer if left undetected.
HPV Awareness Week is October 1-7
HPV is the most common type of sexually transmitted disease (STD) and it has been linked to various cancers:
How Do You Get HPV?
HPV spreads very easily — at least 7 out of 10 people will get it at some point in their lives.
You can catch HPV through oral, vaginal, and anal sex. The virus is so common that most men and women who are sexually active will have HPV at some point. You can pass HPV to your partner even if you don't know you're infected.
You CAN’T catch HPV from a toilet set or swimming pool. It also doesn't pass from person to person through casual contact, like shaking hands or a hug.
How Does One Prevent HPV?
One way to avoid HPV and cervical cancer is to get vaccinated.
The HPV vaccine is most effective when given to children long before they begin any sexual activity.
In Alberta HPV is recommended for children in grade 6 (boys and girls) and is offered as part of their in-school immunization program. It is offered at the same time as the hepatitis B vaccine. Children with a healthy immune system who start HPV immunization before 15 years of age, need 2 doses (over 6 months). Three doses (over 6 months) are required if your child starts the vaccine series at 15 years of age or older or if your child has a weakened immune system.
Does HPV Have Symptoms?
More often than not, HPV causes no symptoms. Some types of HPV can cause genital warts which are single bump, or clusters of bumps that look sort of like cauliflower.
Genital warts can form around the:
- Vagina, vulva, groin, anus, mouth or throat in women
- Penis, scrotum, thigh, groin, anus, mouth or throat in men
How Does HPV Lead to Cervical Cancer?
About 75% of sexually active people have at least one HPV infection in their lifetime. Most of the time HPV infections go away on their own in 1 to 2 years. Yet some people stay infected for many years.
If you don't treat an HPV infection, it can cause cells inside your cervix to turn into cancer. It can often take between 10 and 30 years from the time you’re infected until a tumour begins to forms.
What Are The Symptoms of Cervical Cancer?
Unfortunately, cervical cancer often doesn't cause symptoms until it has already spread. That's why it's important to get regular screening with a Pap test. In fact, 90% of cervical cancer can be prevented with regular Pap tests and following up on any abnormal results
In Alberta women are recommended to begin having regular Pap tests starting at age 25, or 3 years after becoming sexually active, whichever is later. After the first Pap test, a woman can expect to have a Pap test once every 3 years: Screening every year gives very little extra protection compared to having a Pap test every 3 years.
If you are a sexually active young adult who has not been vaccinated in school, talk to one of our pharmacists about the HPV vaccine (Gardesil®).
For more information about HPV visit: https://www.hpvinfo.ca