About HPV and cervical cancer

Information for participants about the human papillomavirus (HPV), cervical cancer and how they are related.

Page last updated: 16 December 2017 (this page is generated automatically and reflects updates to other content within the website)

What is human papillomavirus (HPV)?
What is cervical cancer?
How are HPV and cervical cancer related?
How is HPV treated?
How did I get a HPV infection?
I have had the HPV vaccine. Do I need to have the Cervical Screening Test?
Can Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex (LGBTI) people also get the virus?
Do I need to avoid having sex if I have a HPV infection?
Should I tell my partner I have a HPV infection?
Should I have the HPV vaccine?

What is human papillomavirus (HPV)?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that is spread by genital skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity. It is so common that many people have it at some point in their lives and never know it as there are usually no symptoms.

There are many types of HPV and your body’s immune system will naturally clear most types within one to two years.

What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is found in the cells of the cervix. It is preventable with regular cervical screening.
There are two main types of cervical cancer:
  • Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of cervical cancer, accounting for about 80% of all cases. It starts in the squamous cells that line the outer surface of the cervix.
  • Adenocarcinoma accounts for about 20% of cervical cancers. It develops from the glandular cells, often located higher up in the cervix.

How are HPV and cervical cancer related?

If your body does not clear a HPV infection, it can cause changes to cells in your cervix, which in rare cases can develop into cervical cancer. It usually takes 10 to 15 years for HPV to develop into cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer is preventable with regular cervical screening. The Cervical Screening Test is more accurate at detecting HPV. By detecting a HPV infection early, it allows your healthcare provider to monitor the infection and intervene if there are any changes to cells in your cervix.

How is HPV treated?

There is no treatment for HPV. In most cases the immune system will clear HPV from the body naturally over time. Most people with a HPV infection have no symptoms and will never know they have it.

If your body does not clear a HPV infection, it can cause changes to cells in your cervix, which in rare cases can develop into cervical cancer. If cervical cell changes are found as a result of your Cervical Screening Test, your healthcare provider will advise you about further testing and treatment.

Some types of HPV can cause genital warts and your healthcare provider can suggest treatment options.

How did I get a HPV infection?

The HPV virus is spread by genital skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity. You can be exposed to HPV the first time you engage in sexual activity, and from only one sexual partner.

Most people will have a HPV infection at some point in their lives but the body usually clears the virus. The virus is so common that it is a normal part of being sexually active.

Condoms and other barriers such as dental dams may provide some protection from HPV, but they do not cover all the genital skin.

I have had the HPV vaccine. Do I need to have the Cervical Screening Test?

Yes. Even if you have had the HPV vaccine you should have regular Cervical Screening Tests.

The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that cause around 70% of cervical cancers. It does not protect you against all types of HPV.

The HPV vaccine works best if you have it before you are exposed to the virus. If you have already been exposed to HPV through sexual activity before getting the vaccine, your protection from the vaccine may be reduced.

Can Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex (LGBTI) people also get the virus?

Yes, anyone who engages in genital skin-to-skin contact with a person of any gender can get a HPV infection.

Do I need to avoid having sex if I have a HPV infection?

You do not need to stop having sex if your Cervical Screening Test shows you have a HPV infection.

The HPV virus is very common and there is no way of knowing if your partner currently has, or has previously had, this type of virus. Most of the time your body can clear the virus without causing any problems.

If you are worried about passing a HPV infection to your partner, talk to your healthcare provider for further advice.

Should I tell my partner I have a HPV infection?

It is your choice whether you discuss your Cervical Screening Test results with your partner.

Having a HPV infection does not necessarily mean that you or your partner has been unfaithful. HPV infection is very common and the HPV virus can remain inactive for long periods of time in the body. For most people, it is impossible to know when or from whom they were infected with HPV.

If you are worried about passing a HPV infection to your partner, talk to your healthcare provider for further advice.

Should I have the HPV vaccine?

Talk to your healthcare provider about the individual benefits of getting the vaccine.

The HPV vaccine works best if you have it before you are sexually active and exposed to the HPV virus. If you have already been exposed to HPV, you may have less protection from the vaccine.

The HPV vaccine protects against the two main HPV types that cause around 70% of cervical cancers, as well as some anal, vaginal, oropharyngeal, vulva and penile cancers. It also protects against two HPV types that cause up to 90% of genital warts.

In Australia, the HPV vaccine is given to adolescents through the school-based immunisation program and is approved for use in females 9 to 45 years and in males 9 to 26 years.

You can purchase the vaccine outside of the funded school program.

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