Signs of Cervical Cancer May Be Present Years Before It Develops
So what should be done for women who have high levels of HPV 16 and are considered at risk of developing cervical cancer?
"These women "should definitely be followed closely with repeated Pap smears and HPV ... testing during the following year," Ylitalo tells WebMD. If cancerous changes are found, treatment should begin. Cervical cancer is typically treated by removing the cancerous tissue from the cervix, which usually cures the disease.
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.