Nearly two decades ago, experts discovered a relationship between infection with HPV (human papillomavirus) and cervical cancer. Since then, these experts have learned much more about how HPV can lead to cervical cancer.
Here, what every woman and girl should know about this link.
Cervical cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the cervix.
The cervix is the lower, narrow end of the uterus (the hollow, pear-shaped organ where a fetus grows). The cervix connects the uterus to the vagina (birth canal).
Anatomy of the female reproductive system. The organs in the female reproductive system include the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix, and vagina. The uterus has a muscular outer layer called the myometrium and an inner lining called...
There are more than 100 types of HPV. About 30 or so types can cause genital infections. Some can cause genital warts; other types can cause cervical or other genital cancers. The other 70 or so HPV types can cause infections and warts elsewhere on the body, such as on the hands.
Many sexually active women and men will contract HPV at some point in their lifetime. Most will never even know it. Usually, this virus does not cause any symptoms and doesn't cause disease. Often, the body can clear HPV infection on its own within two years or less.
Some types of HPV, typically HPV 6 and HPV 11, cause genital warts. The warts are rarely associated with cervical cancers. They are considered "low-risk" HPV.
HPV and Cervical Cancer
Certain HPV types are classified as "high-risk" because they lead to abnormal cell changes and can cause genital cancers: cervical cancer as well as cancer of the vulva, anus, and penis. In fact, researchers say that virtually all cervical cancers -- more than 99% -- are caused by these high-risk HPV viruses. The most common of the high-risk strains of HPV are types 16 and 18, which cause about 70% of all cervical cancers.
If the body clears the infection, the cervical cells return to normal. But if the body doesn't clear the infection, the cells in the cervix can continue to change abnormally. This can lead to precancerous changes or cervical cancer.
Rates of Cervical Cancer
Actual cervical cancer is rare in the U.S. because most women get Pap tests and have abnormal cells treated before they turn into cancer. The American Cancer Society predicts that about 12,900 women will find out they have cervical cancer in the U.S. this year. They also say that roughly 4,100 women will die of the disease the same year.