It is estimated that more than 13,000 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States in 2018. In most cases cervical cancer can be prevented through early detection and treatment of abnormal cell changes that occur in the cervix years before cervical cancer develops. We now know that these cell changes are caused by human papillomavirus, commonly known as HPV. HPV infection can also be prevented through vaccination.
It’s also acceptable to continue screening women with Pap tests alone. The most common abnormal Pap result is called ASC-US, or atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance. About half of the women with ASC-US have these cell changes because of the presence of HPV, while the other half do not. Women with ASC-US Pap tests often have a follow-up HPV test: if the HPV test is negative, you probably will continue with normal, routine screening. Usually only women with ASC-US who test positive for HPV need further evaluation. HPV testing is helpful at any age for determining which women with ASC-US need follow-up.
Another option is to have an HPV 16/18 Genotyping test that checks directly for HPV types 16 and 18, which together are responsible for approximately 70% of cervical cancers. This test is approved for use as primary cervical cancer screening with women age 30 and older to determine if HPV 16/18 are present with ASC-US Pap results.
Key Points to Remember
Almost everyone gets HPV at some time. HPV is not likely to change your life. If you have tested positive for HPV there may be a short period of time during which follow-up may seem to be a bother, but little more. Cervical cancer, the most serious problem associated with HPV, is rare and almost always prevented through regular testing for cervical cell changes that could lead to cancer.
Cervical cancer is preventable. Early detection of abnormal cell changes is important.Almost all women and men will have HPV at some point, but very few women will develop cervical cancer. The immune system of most women will usually suppress or eliminate HPV. Only HPV infection that does not go away over many years can lead to cervical cancer, for example.It can be helpful to know your HPV status. This can help determine how often your clinician will recommend that you be tested.Don’t blame yourself or your partner. Your HPV status is not a reliable indicator of your sexual behavior or that of your partner.