Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus. The cervix is made up of millions of cells. Changes can occur in these cells, if left untreated, and can develop into cervical cancer3. Worldwide, cervical cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer in women.1
More than 99% of cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV infection.4 HPV infection is very common. In fact, 4 in 5 women are exposed to it at some point in their life.17 There are more than 100 different types of HPV, of which 14 are considered high-risk with respect to developing cervical cancer.9, 10 Of these 14 high-risk strains, HPV 16 and 18 cause 70% of all cervical cancer cases.11 Women with HPV 16 or 18 are 35 times more likely to develop cervical pre-cancer than those without HPV.4
Anyone, who is sexually active, can get HPV - even if you've only had one sexual partner or even if you use condoms. HPV can live in the body for more than 10 - 15 years with no symptoms until cervical pre-cancer develops and advances, so you could have the virus even if it has been many years since you've had sexual contact.17
A HPV test is a simple test that is done in the same way as a Pap smear - it can be done at the same time or separately. Cells are collected from the cervix and DNA from the cells is checked to look for the presence of 14 high-risk HPV strains that could cause cervical cancer.5
The HPV test that checks for high-risk HPV strains can tell the doctor whether you are at risk of cervical cancer before anything abnormal shows on a Pap smear.
The HPV test that checks for high-risk HPV strains tells the doctor whether you have the high-risk HPV strains or not,9, 10 and identifies HPV 16 and/or 18 which causes 70% of all cervical cancer cases.11 Women with HPV 16 and/or 18 are 35 times more at risk of developing cervical pre-cancer than those without the viruses.4
A Pap smear cannot test for HPV 16, 18 or any of the other 12 high-risk HPV types associated with cervical cancer. A Pap smear identifies changes that have already occurred in the cells of the cervix. Studies have shown that up to one in three women who had been told they were well after receiving a Pap smear actually had cervical cancer.12, 13 Early detection of pre-cancer is critical and by identifying risk, a doctor can put preventative measures in place and help reduce your risk for developing cervical cancer. HPV testing is very easy and can be done at the same time as (or separately from) your Pap smear.
Testing positive for HPV 16 or 18 does not mean you definitely have cervical cancer. However, it means that you are at a higher risk of developing the disease.
By identifying the risk earlier, a doctor can administer appropriate treatment, put preventative measures in place and reduce the risk or even prevent cervical cancer from developing.
If you test negative for HPV 16, 18 or other high-risk HPV types, it means you are at low risk of developing cervical cancer.14 Depending on the recommendations from your doctor, you should return for re-testing in three to five years.
A colposcopy is a medical procedure where a doctor uses a colposcope (a lighted magnifying device) to closely examine your cervix, vagina and vulva. A tissue sample may also be taken for laboratory analysis.19
Although vaccination may reduce the chance of women contracting HPV, it does not protect women who have already been sexually active at the time of vaccination and may have already contracted the HPV virus.
Professional guidelines recommend regular screening no matter if you are vaccinated or not.15
Speak with your family doctor or gynecologist about being tested for high-risk HPV, especially for HPV 16 and 18.