HPV and Cervical Cancer – How They Are Connected


The human papillomavirus (HPV) has been shown to have a clear link to cervical cancer (and some other types of cancer). While some types of the HPV virus have no symptoms at all, one symptom, genital warts, may be visible or invisible as a result of being internal. It is concerning that so many people know so little about HPV and HPV treatment as sexually transmitted strains of HPV have been proven to very often cause cervical cancer.

HPV is one of the most prevalent and highly contagious of all diseases with an estimated 70% of people infected with the HPV virus. The virus is so contagious because it can be contracted through skin to skin contact. Genital warts are the most well-known of the different strains of the HPV virus and while much is known about other sexually transmitted infections, HPV is one that many people have never heard of and/or know very little about.
Symptoms of HPV:

Genital warts may sometimes be located in a spot where there they can be seen and felt,

but quite often they are not positioned externally.

Genital warts can be located inside the vagina, on the cervix or in the anus. This means that a person with genital warts may have no idea that they are infected.

As genital warts are sometimes flesh coloured and painless, they can cause no symptoms at all and may be difficult to detect. Any bumps, changes, growths and unusual features of the skin should always be examined by a health professional. Similarly, if itching, pain or unexpected bleeding occurs, this should be discussed with a health professional.

Diagnosis of HPV:

For females, genital warts are sometimes identified during gynaelogical examinations and particularly during pap smears. The purpose of a pap smear is to identify abnormal changes in the cervix and not to screen for genital warts, or other sexually transmitted infections. However, they are incredibly useful for helping to identify anomalies.

If a person is found to have genital warts, the diagnosis does not mean that their infection will automatically progress to cancer.

But, women who are diagnosed with HPV need to be especially vigilant in keeping up to date with their pap smears.

If abnormal changes are identified during a pap smear, it is likely that a doctor will suggest a follow up screening procedure (such as a colposcope) and monitor the person closely to identify any further changes in the cervix.

A pap smear result may indicate cervical dysplasia which does not necessarily mean cervical cancer. However, cervical dysplasia can be an indicator of ‘carcinoma in situ’ (CIS) and cancer of the cervix. It is possible for cases of dysplasia to regress over time and there is no definitive answer as to what causes progression to invasive cervical cancer.

CIS is thought to be approximately 95% treatable and curable and in CIS, the outer layer of normal cells is replaced by cells that are cancerous. Invasive cervical cancer is different in that it results from cancer cells invading the underlying cervical tissue. This cancer is most often seen in women aged fifty years and older, whereas CIS commonly affects younger women aged between 25 and 34.

More on the importance of the pap smear:

The prognosis for invasive cervical cancer greatly depends on how far the disease has progressed when it is first diagnosed. Regrettably, the mortality rate for cervical cancer is considerably higher than it should be and this is a result of an estimated one third of women failing to have regular pap smears. It is also estimated that 90% of deaths as a result of cervical cancer could be prevented if detected earlier through a pap smear.

The HPV need not be fatal, but as particular strains of it have clear links to cervical cancer, it is important that women have regular pap smears and discuss any changes or concerns with their doctor.