What is Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?
HPV is a common virus that can infect many parts of the body in both males and females. There are more than 100 different strains of HPV. High-risk strains of HPV are associated with cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancer in women and less commonly, anal or penile cancer in men. Low-risk strains of HPV may cause no symptoms or lead to genital warts.
How is HPV related to cervical cancer?
Certain types of HPV can infect the cervix (lower part of the womb), vagina and vulva. In most cases, your body's immune system can fight off the infection and clear the virus. However, the infection can persist sometimes and cause abnormal changes to the cells. Some of these abnormal cells may develop into cervical cancer.
HPV vaccination and cervical cancer
HPV vaccination significantly reduces a woman's risk of developing cervical cancer - one of the most common cancers for women in Singapore.
Symptoms of cervical cancer include abnormal vaginal bleeding such as bleeding after menstrual periods or after sex. There may also be changes in the amount, colour or smell of vaginal discharge.
How is HPV transmitted?
HPV infection is very common in men and women. It can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact such as sexual activity (including oral sex), by sharing contaminated sex toys and rarely, during delivery from an infected mother to her baby.
HPV cannot be transmitted by sitting on toilet seats or touching common surfaces.
Signs and symptoms of a HPV infection
Most HPV infections do not have any signs or symptoms. Some infections may cause genital warts, but they can also cause oral HPV infections such as warts in the mouth or throat.
High-risk HPV infection of the cervix does not cause any signs and symptoms. The abnormality on the cervix is detectable by cervical screening (Pap test) and by HPV DNA tests.
Can HPV be treated?
No treatment is required for asymptomatic HPV infections. 90% of HPV cases are cleared by the body without the need for treatment.
Treatment is directed at HPV-associated conditions such as pre-cancerous lesions, cancer or genital warts. Although HPV virus cannot be treated, regular cervical cancer screening tests can either help to detect changes in the cervical cells caused by HPV infection or to identify high-risk HPV cancer-causing strains.
Decreasing risk of getting cervical cancer
Going for regular screening is the most effective way to detect cervical cancer. All women > 25 years who have ever had sex should have either a Pap test once every 3 years (for women 25 - 29 of age) or a HPV/ HPV DNA test once every 5 years (for women ≥ 30 years old).
Females aged 9-26 are recommended to get the HPV vaccination to prevent cervical cancer. Even after the vaccination, it is important to go for regular screening.