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What is HPV?

Most Americans are probably more familiar with HIV than HPV, or human papilloma virus, although HPV affects millions more people.  Like HIV, HPV is also sexually transmitted and it is not curable.  HPV is the virus that causes genital warts.  It is also responsible for most of the cellular changes that develop into cervical cancer.  More than 70 strains of HPV exist, but only 30 of those affect the cervix.  Of these, only 2 strains are known to be strongly associated with cervical cancer risk, and 9 strains are associated with moderate risk.  Fortunately, cervical cancer is usually diagnosed early enough to be treated and cured.

Testing is now available for HPV, although doctors vary in opinions about who needs HPV testing, how often, and what to do with that information.  Some physicians use these results to guide treatment decisions in borderline cases; some physicians recommend testing for all women at high risk and then recommend a test called colposcopy to further evaluate the cervix if the test is positive.  New research in this area is focusing on a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, new treatments for HPV and cervical cancer, and new cervical diagnostic tests.

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Created: 3/1/2001  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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