HPV and Cervical Cancer
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a member of the Papoviridae family of viruses. The virus itself is a non-enveloped, double stranded DNA virus. It has a genome of 7.9 kilobases, encoding eight genes. There are over 100 types of HPV known, which infect different epithelial surfaces, including the hands and feet, and genital region. Some HPV types cause warts, while others are associated with cervical cancer. The HPV types that are associated with cancer are described as ’High Risk’, while those the cause benign warts are ’Low Risk’.
The virus can be transmitted through skin to skin contact, and enters the body via minor abrasions. The types that infect the genital region (approximately 30 types) can be transmitted through sexual activity.
HPV is a common sexually transmitted virus infection; around 80% of people will be infected at some point in their lives. The majority of infections are transient and asymptomatic with less than 5% of those infected developing anogenital neoplasia.
Vaccination against some types of HPV began in September 2008 and has the potential to prevent around 70% of cervical cancers. For more information on HPV vaccination, please visit the NHS website: NHS HPV Immunisation
Cervical cancer is the second most common female cancer worldwide. Almost half a million new cases are diagnosed every year, leading to more than quarter of a million deaths. Incidence is highest in developing countries and cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer related deaths in many countries of Africa, South and Central America and the Caribbean. Cervical cancer is diagnosed in around 3000 women every year in the UK, and causes 1000 deaths. The main risk factor associated with cervical cancer is infection with High Risk types of HPV. HPV DNA is be detected in virtually all cervical cancers (99.7%). For more information on cervical cancer, please visit the Jo’s Trust website.
Early cervical cancer does not present any symptoms so regular screening is vital, to ensure that cancers are detected as early as possible. Earlier detection means more chance of successful treatment. Cervical screening involves a sample of cells being taken from the cervix and examined under a microscope for signs of abnormality. However, having a positive (abnormal) smear does not mean cervical cancer is present - only that some of the cells are slightly abnormal and could go on to become cervical cancer if left unchecked. For more information on Cervical screening, visit the Cervical Screening Wales Website.