What is HPV?
HPV (Human papillomavirus) & what it actually means. Breaking the taboo, starting an honest conversation, to help understanding of what it is, where it comes from and the implications it can have.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus you will hear mentioned a lot along side cervical cancer. It is one of the things smear tests will be looking for, along with abnormal cells (cell changes) on the cervix. There is a real misconception and taboo, about HPV, which I believe is why, it is not spoken about enough.
When I first announced to my followers on instagram, I had been diagnosed with cervical cancer, I explained that on my recent smear, in comparison to others I had suddenly tested positive for HPV at the age of 26. I had been having smears very regularly since the age of 18 in endometriosis clinics. At the time I announced the HPV result, I received a message which said ‘I am sorry your partner has been unfaithful to you’. Of course this message upset me, but then I realised this type of response probably comes from the fact that we don’t know enough about this virus.
HPV is technically a sexually transmitted virus. Of course alarm bells go off here for everyone and many will think 'No I wouldn't CATCH this then'. But, what most people don’t realise is that basically ALL sexually active male AND females carry this virus. It can be transmitted through Vaginal sex, Anal sex, Oral sex and even the sharing of things like sex toys.
HPV can lay dormant in most people & not ‘switch on’ and one day something just suddenly flicks that switch.
I'll give a little scenario to give a better understanding: Pam (46) and Robert (48) have been together for 25 years, married for 16. Pam has had her smears 3 yearly since the age of 25, no results have ever been abnormal, no HPV or changes to cells. Pam and Robert are in a loving relationship and neither has ever been unfaithful in any way, not a kiss, sex etc, IN ANY WAY. Pam goes for her smear at 46 years old, with no reason to suspect anything has changed, BUT this time Pam is POSITIVE for HPV.
Robert unknowingly may have suddenly 'switched on' the HPV in Pam, or not. It could have been activated by nothing, just changes in her hormones or even activated 30 years ago by Pam's first partner and lay dormant for this long.
HPV does not have any symptoms atall. The more likely cause of symptoms would be if the virus had progressed into pre-cancous or cancerous cells. HPV doesn’t care about your, age or wellness, it can suddenly affect, anyone.
When you're 'diagnosed' with HPV, there is little information given about it, maybe that's even why you're reading this article. The NHS smear test letter will simply read 'Your results show you have HPV (Human papillomavirus). This is called a HPV positive result' It then explains what it is, briefly, across a few sentences. Through the ladies I have spoken to regarding this, the general feedback has always been, when asked, their doctors gave little to no expansion on what HPV really was and what that may mean for them.
HPV often goes away 'switches off' on its own for many, but not always. If you tested positive but had little to no cervical changes, once a colposcopy has investigated, you may be reverted back to 3 yearly smears. Some areas of UK, rightly so, offer yearly smears for those who have previously tested positive for HPV until they're, 3 years clear. Unfortunately, this is not a blanket rule and many ladies who have HPV and even abnormal cells treated, end up falling back to a 3 yearly system. Of course I HIGHLY disagree with this and truly believe this is the reason we see so many ladies being diagnosed with cervical cancer, that ultimately could have been prevented.
To distinguish there are serval types of HPV that cause different conditions, two of which can increase your chance of developing cervical cancer. 7 OUT OF 10 cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV. So this virus that is so very minimally brought to our attention increases your chance of developing cervical cancer by a massive, 70%!
Not as high in percentage, but just as astonishingly, it also increases the chances of various other conditions and cancers in both male and females.
The only known way of reducing your risk of activating HPV is to use condoms during any kind of sex or penetrative activity, from the moment you become sexually active for the duration of your life. Of course this is impossible for most and even if was carried out, could not eliminate all of the risks because of the other ways the virus can be transmitted. It is worth noting there is also a vaccine, its best administered between the ages of 11-13 (or Pre-being sexually active). Though even if vaccinated, never assume you’re protected and don’t need to attend your smears, I feel like very often being vaccinated gives a false sense of security. I personally was vaccinated as a teen at school, pre-being sexually active, and still developed HPV.
The only way to know if you have an active form of the virus is to have your smears regularly on schedule. Some people will avoid their smear, to avoid knowing they are at an increased rick of developing such cancers. This is perfectly understandable, but, getting ahead of the situation is key and If you know from a smear you have HPV you will be more vigilant for symptoms of cervical cancer. Diagnosing cervical cancer early, could save your life!
Leave a comment below of your experience with HPV, did you feel the NHS gave enough information and support for the condition? Were you followed up? Any questions ask below...