Here's Why HPV Testing Should Climb to the Top of Your List

With over 100 different strains, the human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common and easy-to-transfer infection. Fortunately, most of these variations don’t lead to cancer, but there are some genital versions of HPV that lead to cervical cancer, and infection with the virus has been connected other forms of cancer in the genital area of both women and men.

Testing for HPV is increasingly becoming the standard for cervical cancer and precancer screening, so regular testing is an important part of your preventive health regimen.

HPV Infections and genital warts

The different strains of HPV affect various places on your body. Usually, your immune system fights off the infection before it has any effect, of which warts are the most common. If warts do develop, their appearance depends on the version of HPV causing the infection.

If genital warts appear, they may be in the form of flat lesions, small protrusions, or bumps that resemble cauliflower. These most often appear on the vulva, but may also present near the anus, in the vagina, or on the cervix. There’s usually no discomfort or pain associated with HPV-caused genital warts, though some patients may experience itchiness.

HPV and cervical cancer

The presence of warts isn’t a sign that you will develop cervical cancer. The strains of HPV that most often lead to cervical cancer generally don’t produce warts, so you may never know you’re infected without testing, one of the most compelling reasons for adding HPV tests to your preventive health screening. Likewise, cervical cancer, once it develops, usually has no signs or symptoms in the early stages.

Repeated infections with some HPV strains can lead to precancerous lesions on the cervix. These lesions, which could become cancerous without treatment, are most often found during Pap tests.

Cervical cancer doesn’t progress very rapidly, so Pap tests do a good job of catching these lesions and other cell changes before problems develop. However, one of the advantages of HPV testing is that it can alert you to the presence of infection before cervical lesions develop.

The role of HPV testing

For women over the age of 30 who have not been immunized against HPV infections, testing for the virus can now be part of preventive cancer screening. The United States Preventive Services Task Force issued recommendations that include three options for effective cervical cancer screening.

For women between the ages of 30 and 65, these recommended options are:

The USPSTF also recommends Pap smears for women between the ages of 30 to 65. HPV testing isn’t recommended for younger women, but since almost everyone is infected with HPV at some point, and since 99% of cases clear up spontaneously, early testing can lead to many needless false alarms.

Discussion with your caregiver

Discuss your cervical cancer screening schedule with your primary care physician or with Dr. Davidson at Caring for Women’s Health. Some women may have a higher risk of developing HPV infections and cervical cancer, so you may be advised to adopt a more frequent screening routine. Call or click to contact Caring for Women’s Health today.

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