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HPV screening: Answers to your questions

Florence Morning News - 7/17/2017

What is the link between Human Papilloma Viruses and cervical cancer?

Most cervical cancers are caused by high-risk types of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). HPV is a virus that can be transmitted to others through vaginal, anal or oral sex. It is very common to get HPV. In fact, at least one in two sexually active people will have the virus at some point in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Having HPV raises your risk for cervical cancer. However, cervical cancer is rare ? only 12,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with it every year ? and most women who have HPV will never develop cervical cancer.

Why is HPV

screening important?

Once you know you have HPV, you can take further steps to reduce other risk factors for cervical cancer. Knowing if you have HPV is the first step in the early detection of cervical cancer.

When cervical cancer is detected at an early stage, it is much easier to treat.

When should

I be screened?

HPV screening is recommended for women between ages 30 and 65, regardless of sexual history or current activity. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends having an HPV co-test every five years during this age range.

An HPV co-test is an HPV screening and Pap test, also known as a Pap smear or Pap cytology, administered together. In April 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of a single HPV DNA test as a first-line screening for cervical cancer, beginning at age 25, which may affect future recommendations.

However, none of the leading organizations currently recommend HPV screening alone and routine pap tests are still recommended starting at age 21.

What happens

during an HPV test?

Your primary care provider (PCP) or gynecologist will swab your cervix to obtain a sample of the cervical cells. Lab testing is performed on the sample to determine the presence of the HPV virus.

The test only takes a few seconds and causes minimal discomfort.

I tested positive

for HPV. Now what?

Testing positive for HPV doesn't mean you have or will get cervical cancer.

If the results of your Pap test are normal, you may fight off HPV naturally and never experience cell changes in your cervix that increase your cancer risk. Your PCP or gynecologist probably will have you undergo a follow-up HPV co-test in one year to monitor your HPV and check for any cell changes.

If you have an abnormal Pap test result, it means cervical cell changes have occurred that increase your risk for cancer, but it still doesn't guarantee you'll develop cancer.

Your PCP or gynecologist might perform a colposcopy to more closely examine your cervix and confirm that your cells are abnormal. He or she might recommend a more frequent cervical cancer screening schedule for a while after the abnormal results.

Beyond HPV:

Managing your risk

HPV is not the only risk factor for cervical cancer. If you have HPV, you can still minimize your likelihood of developing cervical cancer by modifying your lifestyle.

Take these steps to reduce your cervical cancer risk:

> Quit smoking. According to the American Cancer Society, women who smoke are about twice as likely to get cervical cancer as women who don't smoke.

> Be safe. Practicing safe sex limits your chance of contracting HIV/AIDS and chlamydia, both of which may increase your risk of cervical cancer.

> Eat more fruits and veggies. A diet low in these food groups can increase your cervical cancer risk.

Dr. Heather Draeger is board certified in OB/GYN. She is associated with Phillips & Coker OB/GYN, an affiliate of Carolinas Medical Alliance. She is a member of the medical staff at Carolinas Hospital System. Draeger is accepting new patients. To schedule an appointment, call 843-665-9581 or visit


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