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Does HPV Lead to Cancer?

Though it’s true that high-risk strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) cause most cases of cervical cancer, having HPV doesn’t mean that you will develop cancer. If you have HPV, it’s important to work closely with a women’s health specialist to monitor for any abnormal changes to cervical cells. 

The team at Ideal Gynecology is here to provide the education and guidance to navigate issues like HPV. The most effective way to prevent cervical cancer is to get regular Pap smears. 

HPV overview

HPV is a group of more than 200 viruses, with more than 40 types easily transmitted through sexual contact. In many cases, the immune system eliminates HPV on its own without it causing any health problems.

However, when HPV sticks around, it can lead to health issues, including genital warts and cancer. It’s important to know that the majority of HPV infections are low-risk types that can cause warts but are not known to lead to cancer.

HPV and cancer

Certain high-risk types of HPV are linked to several types of cancer. In fact, HPV is responsible for more than 95% of cervical cancer cases.

Other types of cancer linked to HPV include oropharyngeal, penile, vaginal, and vulvar cancer. These cancers often don’t develop until years after contracting a high-risk type of HPV.

Cervical cancer screening 

Screening is key in preventing cervical cancer. If you have HPV, it’s important to discuss how often to schedule a Pap smear. 

Once you reach age 21, it’s recommended that you get regular Pap tests every three to five years depending on your individual risk factors. If you have HPV, your Ideal Gynecology provider may recommend screening more frequently.  

A Pap smear is a relatively quick screening test that plays a crucial role in the prevention and early detection of cervical cancer. During the test, your provider collects cells from your cervix and sends them for analysis to check for any abnormalities. 

The goal is to detect any abnormal changes before they have a chance to develop into cancer. 

What happens if I have an abnormal Pap smear?

Receiving abnormal Pap smear results can understandably cause concern, but it's important to remember that an abnormal result doesn't necessarily mean you have cervical cancer. In many cases, abnormal results indicate minor changes or infections, including HPV, which may resolve on their own. 

Next steps following an abnormal Pap test

The first step following an abnormal Pap smear is to follow up with your healthcare provider for further evaluation. Depending on the specific findings of your Pap test, our team may recommend a repeat Pap smear in a few months to monitor any changes. 

Alternatively, our team may suggest a more detailed examination of your cervical tissue, known as a colposcopy. During a colposcopy, our board-certified gynecologist Dr. Lilian Schapiro, MD, FACOG,  or one of our board-certified nurse practitioners uses a special instrument called a colposcope to closely examine the cervical tissue and may take a biopsy for further analysis.

If the follow-up tests reveal precancerous changes or significant abnormalities, don't panic. Precancerous conditions can often be treated successfully, preventing cervical cancer from developing. 

Treatment options vary depending on the severity and extent of the cell changes. They may range from careful observation with repeat testing to minor surgical procedures to remove the abnormal tissue. Rest assured that our highly skilled women’s health team will guide you through the treatment process.

Keeping you healthy and vibrant throughout all life stages is our priority! If you have questions or are due for a Pap test, don’t hesitate to reach out to our scheduling coordinator to request an appointment. Taking proactive steps today can make a major difference in your long-term health and well-being.

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