Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). HPV is the cause of most cervical cancers. There are 118 different strains of HPV. Most are not harmful. However, 14 HPV genotypes signify high-risk for developing cervical cancer. HPV causes genital warts and can also lead to anal, mouth, penile, vaginal, vulvar and throat cancers.
In most cases, HPV infection has no noticeable signs or symptoms, and the body’s immune system destroys the infection within a couple of years. When HPV persists with high-risk strains, there is an increased risk of developing cervical cancer. 1550 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer annually in Canada, for 400 of those women, it is fatal. Cervical cancer, however, is preventable.
HPV vaccines help prevent HPV infections. In doing so, they also prevent diseases associated with some of the most prevalent high-risk HPV strains. Gardasil® is the only HPV vaccine available in Canada. GARDASIL®9 helps protect against nine HPV types. Seven of these HPV types can cause cervical cancer. Plus, GARDASIL®9 helps protect against two HPV types that cause genital warts. If you’re already infected with one type of HPV contained in the vaccine, GARDASIL®9 will help protect you against the other eight types.
The HPV vaccine is provided free to BC children in Grade Six as part of routine school vaccination programs. However, one-third of eligible students in BC have not been fully immunized against HPV.
You can get the virus at any point in your life while sexually active. GARDASIL®9 can be administered to all people up to 45 years of age.
A normal pap does not mean cancer-free. Studies show that the HPV test complements the Pap test.
The HPV co-test is used to help screen women over thirty for the HPV virus. It is a highly sensitive, non-invasive, DNA-based testing method that evaluates the presence of 14 types of high-risk HPV viruses in the sample of cervical cells. Women over 30 with ASCUS (Atypical Squamous Cells of Undetermined Significance- A finding of abnormal cells in the tissue that lines the outer part of the cervix. ASCUS is the most common abnormal finding in a Pap test. It may be a sign of infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) or other types of infection, such as a yeast infection) or LSIL (low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion - is usually is caused by an HPV infection that often goes away on its own) should get this test.
Together, a Pap and HPV test can be highly effective for the early detection of cervical cancer in women over 30. The HPV test detects the presence of high-risk HPV strain(s) that can cause cervical cancer while the Pap test detects the presence of abnormal cells which could develop into cervical cancer. Unlike the Pap test, the HPV test can detect the presence of a high-risk virus before any changes can be detected in the cells of the cervix.
HPV co-testing is also recommended to assess eligibility for the HPV vaccine. At the IUD clinic we offer HPV co-testing. Please note provincial health insurance plans do not currently cover this test, but your extended health insurance plan might.