HPV vaccine and cervical cancer
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) is very common, but cervical cancer is not common.
- Most women who have HPV will not develop cervical cancer.
- In most people, HPV clears up naturally within one or two years.
- Pap tests check for any changes to the cervix caused by HPV.
- Women who have had the HPV vaccination still need to have cervical screening.
What is human papillomavirus (HPV)?
HPV is a very common virus in females and males. Four out of five people will have had HPV at some time in their lives. It can be considered a normal part of life after you start to have sex.
There are over 100 types of HPV which affect different parts of the body. This information is about genital HPV which, in rare cases, may cause cervical cancer.
What causes HPV?
Genital HPV is passed on by skin-to-skin contact between people. Some types of HPV cause genital warts, but most HPV infection is invisible. HPV is usually cleared by the body’s immune system in one to two years.
Can I be vaccinated for HPV?
Yes, there is a vaccine for HPV; however the best time to have the vaccination is before a person becomes sexually active. The vaccine is not effective against an HPV infection that is already in the body.
In Australia, girls and boys aged 12-13 years are offered the free vaccine through schools.
More information about the vaccine is available from Immunise Australia.
I have had the HPV vaccine. Do I need to have Pap tests?
Yes. The HPV vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV infection that cause cervical cancer, so it is important to have regular screening.
The vaccine prevents the types of HPV which causes about 70% of cervical cancer, and also protects against genital warts.
How is HPV linked to cervical cancer?
In rare cases, if an HPV infection persists and is not detected, it can lead to cervical cancer.
Although most HPV infection is cleared from the body, some types (especially types 16 and 18) are more likely to be persistent and can cause changes in the cells which may become cervical cancer. This can take up to ten years.
It is important to have a Pap test every two years, so that any cell changes caused by HPV can be identified and either monitored until they clear up naturally, or treated when it is necessary.
HPV can be transmitted by female-to-female sex, so it is important that all women who have ever had sex have regular Pap tests.
How is HPV treated?
There is no treatment for HPV as most people’s immune system will clear the virus naturally. However, the effects of HPV such as warts or changes to the cells of your cervix can be treated. Your doctor can suggest the most suitable treatment for you.
Should I tell my partner that I have HPV?
If you have HPV, it is likely that your partner has it too. If you or your partner are concerned about HPV, talk to your doctor or go to a sexual health centre for advice.
Remember, HPV is very common, and most people will clear HPV from their body within one or two years with no harmful effects.