Does a Virus Really Cause Cervical Cancer?
When the high-risk HPV viruses stay in the body for a long period of time they can lead to cervical, as well as other types of cancer.
CREDIT: Kurhan | Dreamstime
There are more than 100 kinds of human papillomaviruses (HPV), many of which do nothing more than cause harmless, if annoying, warts. About 40 are mucosal, or genital HPV, and are the most common sexually-transmitted infections (STI) in the United States. If you are sexually active, you have a 50 percent chance of getting infected.
There are about 10 "high risk" types of genital HPV that increase the risk of cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina and anus in women, and of the anus and penis in men.
Persistent infection with high-risk HPV is linked to virtually all cases of cervical cancer (the second-leading cause of cancer-related death in women). When the virus remains in the body for a period of years it slowly converts some cells in the cervix to cancerous cells, which become progressively more invasive.
Early treatment is crucial to minimizing the effects of HPV. A simple Pap test can detect its presence in women.
A vaccine became available last year in the United States, one that prevents against two high-risk and two low-risk types of HPV. About 70 percent of cases of cervical cancer are associated with those two high-risk types. Other (non-curative) treatments exist for the genital warts and cervical cancers associated with HPV. Additionally, the body's natural immune system can take care of a some HPV infections within a year.
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