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HPV and Cervical Cancer

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Treatment of HPV Infection

A positive HPV test may not mean a woman needs treatment, at least not immediately. Having a positive test puts a woman in the "high-risk" class, alerting the doctor that she is at higher risk for cervical tissue changes and may need close evaluation.

To watch for further tissue changes, the doctor may order frequent Pap tests. Or the doctor may perform a colposcopy, in which a lighted magnifying device is used to closely examine cervical tissues.

Researchers have discovered that high-risk HPV viruses produce certain proteins. These proteins interfere with the cell functions that limit excessive cell growth.

If abnormal cervical tissue changes progress, treatment of the HPV infection may be needed. Among the options are surgery, laser treatment, and freezing.

Pregnant women, or women considering pregnancy, should consult closely with their doctor. The risk of passing HPV on to the baby is very low. But HPV treatments can affect pregnancy, so doctors may want to delay treatment until after childbirth.

How to Prevent HPV Infection

There's only one sure way to eliminate any chance of HPV infection: Avoid all genital contact with another person. To reduce risk, it's best to have a mutually monogamous sexual relationship with an uninfected partner. But keep in mind, many people don't know if they're infected. Using condoms can help reduce the risk of HPV transmission but are not foolproof. The virus can be transmitted to genital areas not covered by the condom.

A vaccine, Gardasil, was approved in 2006 for use in girls and women aged 9 to 26. It is also approved for use in females and males (also aged 9 to 26) to prevent genital warts and anal cancer. 

Another vaccine, Cervarix, was approved by the FDA in 2009. Over time, widespread vaccination will help prevent transmission of the HPV types covered by the vaccines.

The Gardasil HPV vaccine protects against several high-risk strains of HPV, including HPV types 16 and 18, which account for 70% of cervical cancers. It also protects against HPV 6 and 11, which account for about 90% of genital warts. Cervarix protects against HPV types 16 and 18.

The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends girls be vaccinated with one of the  two vaccines between the ages of 11 and 12, before they become sexually active.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kirk Shibley, MD on February 16, 2012

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