Overview



Please note that information in this section is intended as educational information only, and is geared towards sexually active individuals with a vagina. Please see the resources section for links to additional information, and sources of medical advice.

The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common virus. It is estimated that 75%-80% of sexually active adults will have an HPV infection at some point in their lives.


There are over 100 strains (variations) of HPV. About 40 of these strains can affect the genital area, and about 14 strains can potentially lead to different cancers.

Strains that can lead to cancer are called “high risk” strains of HPV. The other strains that affect the genital region, but do not cause cancer are called “low-risk” strains of HPV.


High risk HPV strain types 16 and 18 cause 70% of cervical cancers, and low risk HPV strains 6 and 11 cause 90% of genital warts. Eve Kit collects a sample to be tested for all high risk strains of HPV.

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Transmission & Symptoms



HPV can be transmitted in multiple ways:

Sexual Transmission
  • • Genital to genital
  • • Genital to anal
  • • Oral to genital/anal
Skin to Skin Contact
  • • Non-penetrative sex
  • • Body rubbing
Sharing Items
  • • Sex toys

Most of the time, HPV does not have any symptoms so you may not know that you have contracted the virus. Your body (Usually women under 30 years of age) can often clear the infection without any symptoms, so you may not even know that you had it.

Infections with low risk strains of HPV can cause genital warts, which are small growths that can grow on the vulva, penis or anus. Symptoms of genital warts include:


Warts
(Growths)

Discomfort during sex

Bleeding from sex or shaving

Genital Itching

It may take from weeks to months for warts to show after an infection (if ever). During that time, you can pass on the infection to others, so it’s always important to practice safe sex. Topical treatments can be prescribed by a healthcare practitioner to help manage genital warts.

In some cases, a high risk HPV infection that is not cleared by your body may persist (doesn’t go away), which can potentially lead to different types of cancer over time. This is more of a concern for women over the age of 30, as it usually takes a persistent HPV infection over a number of years (10 or more) to develop to pre-cancer or cancer. See the cervical cancer topic for signs and symptoms of cervical cancer.

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HPV related cancer



Scientists have discovered that infections with high risk strains of the HPV virus can potentially lead to different types of cancer. The most well understood and researched HPV related cancer is cerivcal cancer in women (or anyone with a vagina), but HPV can affect men as well.

The types of cancers that can be caused by HPV are:


Out of 100 cases of HPV-related cancer, a breakdown of cases would look like this:


Source: Canadian Cancer Society

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Pap vs. HPV test



When screening for cervical cancer, there are two different tests are often used.


CYTOLOGY (PAP TEST)


The commonly known test is called cytology, which is also known as the Pap test. During a pap test, a healthcare professional collects cells from inside of the cervix which are observed under a microscope by a Cytologist. The Cytologist will determine if the cells look abnormal, which could indicate cervical pre-cancer or cancer.


Samples collected from inside the cervix

Cells observed to detect cell abnormalities

HPV TEST


In an HPV test, a sample is collected from inside the vagina close to the cervix. The sample is processed for high risk HPV DNA on a molecular diagnostic machine. If HPV DNA virus is present, then an infection is confirmed. Because cervical cancer is caused by high risk strains of HPV, if there is no HPV infection, that person is very unlikely to develop cervical cancer in the near future.It is recommended for women only over the age of 30 to take an HPV test as HPV is very common in younger women, but usually goes away on its own. It is more common that women over 30 years of age who test positive have a persistent HPV infection and therefore at potential risk for pre-cancer or cancer.


Samples collected from around cervix

Detection of HPV DNA on molecular diagnostic machine

The HPV and cytology tests are often used in combination to prevent cervical cancer. If a cytologist is not sure whether cervical cells are abnormal, they may use an HPV test to confirm if the virus is present.

If an HPV test is positive, a Pap test is recommended to check if any cellular changes have occurred.

Having a positive HPV or cytology test does not mean the person has pre-cancer or cancer. But it does mean there is potential risk, which should be monitored.

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Prevention



Ways to prevent HPV infections and related diseases are:


Using Protection During Sex
  • • Use condoms or female condoms for penetrative sex with any body parts or objects
  • • Use dental dams and condoms for oral sex
  • • Remember that some contraceptive strategies (birth control pill, diaphragm, IUDs) prevent pregnancy, but not STIs

Get Screened Appropriately
  • • If you had unprotected sex, or the protection failed / broke
  • • If you have or are planning to have a new sexual partner
  • • You or your partner is having sex with another sexual partner
  • • Screen according to your province’s cervical cancer guidelines

GET VACCINATED
  • • The HPV vaccine helps prevent cervical and other cancers by immunizing against the most prevalent (common) high risk HPV strains
  • • It also prevents genital warts by covering most low-risk strains of HPV as well
  • • The vaccine may still be helpful even if you are already sexually active
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