HPV Test Kit

HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) and affects almost 75% of women at some point in their lives. There are some strands of the HPV virus which can increase the risk of cervical cancer. Dr Felix makes it easier for peopl

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What is HPV?

HPV stands for human papillomavirus and refers to a large group of viruses. HPV often has no symptoms or complications, and most people will catch the virus at some point in their life. However, some strains of HPV can lead to further health complications such as genital warts or certain types of cancer.

What are the different types of HPV?

There are over 100 different strains of HPV. Around 60 of these cause warts to appear on the skin, often on the hands or the feet. The rest are predominantly sexually transmitted and cause warts on or around mucus membranes such as the mouth, vagina or anus. Sexually transmitted strains of HPV can be divided into high-risk and low-risk, with high risk HPV strains being the cause of 70% of cervical cancer cases. 

How do you catch HPV?

Type of HPV that affect areas around the mucous membranes (the mouth and throat, genitals and anus) are the most easily spread. HPV is spread through vaginal, oral or anal sex, but can also be spread through skin-to-skin contact of the genital area or through sharing sex toys.

Who should get tested?

All women in the UK between the age of 25 and 64 are offered regular cervical screening on the NHS. This entails taking a small sample of cells from the cervix and includes testing for HPV.

When is the best time to get tested?

HPV often presents no symptoms, so groups at higher risk of developing complications are offered regular screening. Because HPV is associated with a high risk of cervical cancer this includes all women with a cervix between the ages of 25 and 64. Some clinics may also offer free screening to men who have sex with men.

What are the risks if HPV is left undiagnosed and untreated?

HPV is often undiagnosed as it presents no symptoms and in most cases is harmless. The virus is only diagnosed when it leads to further complications, such as genital or skin warts which are easy to spot, or abnormal changes to the cells which can be picked up in tests such as cervical screening. Cervical screening is vital for detecting the early signs of cervical cancer, which if caught early can often be effectively treated. If you develop genital warts, you should consult your GP as soon as possible to be treated and to prevent the spread of the infection.  

What are the complications of HPV?

In most cases, HPV causes no symptoms or complications an is cleared from the body within 2 years. However, some types of HPV can lead to genital warts, or changes in the cells which may lead to cancer. The most common cancer associated with HPV is cervical cancer, but the virus can also lead to cancer of the penis or anal, vulval, vaginal or types of head and neck cancer.

What are the long-term effects of HPV?

For many people, HPV is harmless, presents no symptoms, and is cleared from the body within 2 years. For others, HPV can lead to abnormal changes to cells which may be cancer-causing. Some cases of HPV which are contracted through oral sex may cause lesions in the mouth, throat or nose.

Who is most at risk of HPV?

Although HPV can be contracted if you are not sexually active, it is often sexually transmitted and having multiple sexual partners puts you at a higher risk of contracting the virus. You will also be at a higher-risk if you have sex with someone who has had multiple sexual partners. If you have areas of damaged skin, such as an open wound, you are more likely to contract the virus when coming into personal contact with an individual carrying the virus, and patients with a weakened immune system, which may be a result of HIV/AIDS, or of immunosuppressant drugs, are also at a greater risk of contracting HPV. Age is also a risk-factor for low-risk HPV, with common warts occurring predominantly in children and genital warts in adolescents and young adults. 

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of HPV?

HPV itself has no symptoms, but can lead to the growth of warts on the skin or on mucous membranes such as the mouth, vagina or anus. Different types of HPV infections lead to different types of growth, including genital warts, common warts, plantar warts and flat warts.

Treatment

What should I do if I get a positive test result?

If you test positive for HPV, you will be eligible for screening against cervical cancer, and so should book an appointment to see your GP or gynaecologist as soon as possible.

Is HPV curable?

There is no existing cure for HPV, but most people’s immune system will clear the virus on its own within 2 years. 

How is HPV treated?

There is no treatment for HPV itself and most infection are cleared easily from the body within 2 year. The best way to avoid HPV is to protect yourself as best you can by using condoms during sex, and by being vaccinated against the virus. Treatment is available for the health complications caused by HPV, including genital warts and some types of cancer.

What is the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine help to protect against HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18, which as a group are responsible for 70% of cervical cancer cases and 90% of cases of genital warts in the UK. The vaccine It is offered free of charge to all girls and women between the ages of 12 and 18.

How effective is the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine is almost 100% effective if all doses are administered at the correct intervals, and if it is administered before and HPV infection has been contracted. 

Q&A

Is HPV an STI?

HPV is an STI that can be transmitted through vaginal, oral or anal sex, or through skin-to skin contact in the genital region. However, there are many different strains of HPV that can be caught through non-sexual means, such as contact with the skin growths of an infected individual or with surfaces in public spaces which may have been exposed to the virus. 

Can you contract HPV by any other means that sex?

You do not have to be sexually active to contract HPV. In fact, many low-risk strains which cause either no symptoms or cause common warts on the skin are more predominant in children than in adults. HPV can be contracted through skin-to-skin contact with an infected person, or even through contact with surfaces that may have been exposed to HPV, such as public showers and swimming pools. 

How long has the HPV vaccine been available?

The national HPV immunisation programme was introduced in 2008, offering all school girls aged 12 to 13 vaccination against the virus, including a catch-up campaign that aimed to immunise all girls ages 14 to 18. The vaccine continues to be offered in schools to all girls aged 12 to 13, and is free on the NHS for girls up to the age of 18. Beginning in April 2018, the vaccine is now offered in the UK to all men under the age of 45 who have sex with other men. 

Is the HPV vaccine suitable for men and women?

The HPV vaccine is suitable for both men and women. The free vaccination programme is aimed at women and girls, who are at a high-risk of developing cervical cancer associated with HPV, but indirectly helps to protect men and boys who are less likely to contract HPV from their female sexual partners. Men who have sex with other men do not benefit from this and as such became eligible if under the age of 45 for a free HPV vaccination on the NHS in April 2018. It is expected that the 2019-2020 school year will introduce free vaccination in schools for boy between the ages of 12 and 13 as well as girls.

Can men get HPV?

Both men and women can contract HPV, and most cases are harmless and present no symptoms. Currently, the only approved HPV tests are for women only as they screen for cervical cancer, the cancer most commonly associated with HPV. Some experts recommend that men who have sex with men get tested regularly for anal cancer, which may be associated with HPV.

Is HPV a type of cancer?

HPV refers to a common group of viruses and is not a type of cancer. However, it can cause abnormal changes to cells which may result in cancer, including cervical, anal, vulval and vaginal cancer, cancer of the penis and cancer of the head and neck.

What other ways are there to test for HPV?

The HPV test kit is the only available means of testing for HPV. However, women between the ages of 25 and 64 are eligible for regular cervical screening on the NHS, which involves taking a small sample of cells from the cervix and will detect any abnormalities caused by HPV infection. 

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