Signs of Cervical Cancer May Be Present Years Before It Develops
Because cervical cancer grows so slowly and because it is highly curable
once detected, an HPV test can be a valuable addition to the Pap smear, says
Hildegund C.J. Ertl, MD, PhD.
Ertl, a professor at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia who was not
involved in either study, says that while most women's bodies can rid them of
HPV naturally, other women remain chronically infected, possibly due to genetic
reasons. But it's impossible for doctors to know which women with HPV will rid
themselves of the virus, she says. And, among those who don't, there is no sure
way of knowing which ones will get cancer.
"Just having the virus is not going to make you have cancer," Ertl
tells WebMD. "There has to be an additional event. It's just a question of
time, and in some women it happens and in others it never happens."
- Human papillomavirus (HPV), a fairly common sexually transmitted virus, is
believed to cause many cases of cervical cancer.
- New studies shows that women who test positive for HPV 16 have a far higher
risk of getting cervical cancer. Researchers recommend that tests for the virus
be added to women's annual Pap smears.
- Although HPV is often eliminated naturally by the body, some women carry
the infection chronically, so screening may be a useful way to identify those
at high risk of cervical cancer.