HPV and Cervical Cancer Myths
Debunking the Myths About HPV and Cervical Cancer
- MYTH: Cervical cancer can be treated effectively if it's diagnosed early, but it's not preventable. Cervical cancer is preventable in most cases, making it one of the first potential "wins" in the battle against cancer. We now know that high-risk types of the human papillomavirus (HPV) are the cause of virtually all cases of cervical cancer. For the first time ever, there is now a vaccine to prevent cancer: an HPV vaccine that protects against two of the most dangerous types of HPV. This is most effective when given to girls and young women who have not yet been sexually active. Whether or not a woman over 30 years of age has been vaccinated against HPV, she will also benefit from HPV testing along with her regular Pap smears. If women who have persistent infections with a high-risk type of HPV are identified using the FDA-approved test now available, they can be monitored closely and treated early - before abnormal cell changes become more serious. The progression from cervical cell changes (dysplasia) into cervical cancer is a slow process, taking an estimated 10-15 years. Therefore, early intervention is very effective.
- MYTH: Regular Pap smears are all that are needed to protect women from cervical cancer.While it is true that regular use of the Pap smear has led to a significant decline in the number of Americans who get cervical cancer, it is only accurate 50 to 85 percent of the time. In fact, a recent study published in the International Journal of Cancer) found that, HPV testing is more sensitive (96 percent) than the Pap smear alone (53 percent). Furthermore, research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reported that nearly one-third of cervical cancer cases are due to Pap detection failure. Thus, there are instances when women are diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer even after multiple, normal Pap tests. When an HPV test is done along with the Pap in women age 30 and older (who are most at risk for persistent HPV infections and cervical cancer), the "sensitivity" rate increases to nearly 100 percent. In addition, as discussed above, there is now an HPV vaccine to protect girls and young women who are not yet sexually activeagainst two of the most high risk types of HPV.
- MYTH: Only women who lead a promiscuous lifestyle (or whose partners are unfaithful) are at risk of HPV and need to be tested for the virus. Approximately 80 percent of all women will get HPV at some point by the age of 50, making it the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. In fact, one expert commented in a leading medical journal that "HPV exposure is more the rule than the exception." In addition, it is believed that HPV can stay dormant in the body for months or even years before it becomes detectable - meaning that women need to be monitored for HPV even when they and their partners have maintained a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship.
Cervical cancer is preventable in most cases, making it one of the first potential "wins" in the battle against cancer.