HPV & CERVICAL CANCER
Is there a test for HPV?
Yes, it is currently recommended that all women between the ages of 25-74 undertake a routine Cervical Screening Test (HPV Test) every 5 years. Routine cervical screening detects the presence of the human papillomavirus (HPV), prior to the development of abnormal cells, which over a long period of time (up to 10 years) can go on to form cervical cancer.
Routine Cervical Screening Tests are critical to the prevention of cervical cancer. The test is available on the Medicare Benefits Schedule. Currently, there is no routine HPV test available for men.
The National Cervical Screening Program changes are now in effect, for more information about what’s changed read here.
Can you still get HPV if you are a virgin?
Yes you can. Unlike some STI’s HPV is not transmitted via bodily fluids, rather it is transmitted via skin to skin contact. If you are or have been intimate with someone who has been exposed to HPV, there is a chance you could contract HPV even without vaginal or anal penetration. Oral HPV transmission can occur through contact with the mouth or genitals
Can you still get HPV if you wear a condom?
Yes – condoms provide some, but not complete protection against HPV. As HPV is transmitted via skin-to-skin contact rather than bodily fluids, condoms cannot provide full protection from contracting HPV. HPV can also be contracted through any oral and genital contact. The use of condoms are highly encouraged as they provide valuable protection against many STIs and unplanned pregnancy, though their protection against HPV has limitations.
What if I have missed a dose at school?
If you miss a dose at school, and are still in the eligible year level, you can ‘catch up’ that dose for free through a GP or local immunisation provider. If you are 15 to 19 years of age when you get your first dose of HPV vaccine, you will need 3 doses, not 2 doses, to provide the best protection. You will need to pay for one of these doses because only 2 doses are covered under the NIP. This is the case for both boys and girls. Some local council’s provide the vaccine at free clinics to students one year outside of the eligible year level but parents would need to check this with their local council as each varies. Note: all students (under 18) must have parental permission to receive the vaccine.
There is some great information made for parents about HPV and vaccination available from Cancer Council.
Is cervical cancer hereditary?
The majority of cases of cervical cancer develop from contracting the human papillomavirus. As this is a virus you contract; there is currently little evidence that you are any more predisposed to developing cervical cancer if your mother or grandmother had it.
How do people die from cervical cancer?
The source or location of cancerous cells are different for different forms of cancer, therefore treatment is different depending on the type. Normal cells divide a certain number of times before they expire making way for new healthy cells however the cancer cells are immortal. Cell division is rapid as well as unlimited, so these rapidly dividing malignant cells compete with the normal cells for nutrients and oxygen. Ultimately normal cells die off due to nutrition depletion.
Sometimes these cancer cells obstruct certain passages e.g.: Gastro intestinal tract, blood vessel, biliary tract, urinary tract and take nutrients and oxygen. This could ultimately lead to death of the person with the cancerous cells.
Have they found a cure for cervical cancer yet?
Currently, there is no cure for cervical cancer. They are working on a vaccine for women who have already contracted HPV, but it is still a way off. There are effective treatments however such as different types of surgery and chemotherapy that can rid the body of cancer completely, as is the case with all types of cancer. Like most forms of cancer, the effectiveness of these treatments are dependent on the stage and type of the cancer.
How does smoking affect the possibility of getting cancer?
Women who smoke tobacco are about twice as likely as non-smokers to get cervical cancer. Smoking exposes the body to many cancer-causing chemicals that affect organs other than the lungs. These harmful substances are absorbed through the lungs and carried in the bloodstream throughout the body. Tobacco by-products have been found in the cervical mucus of women who smoke. Researchers believe that these substances damage the DNA of cervix cells and may contribute to the development of cervical cancer. Smoking also makes the immune system less effective in fighting HPV infections.
Does cervical cancer treatment affect women’s ability to have kids?
It depends on the case, the degree of the cancer and what is deemed the most appropriate treatment based on a variety of factors. Treatment may be in the form of surgery but not all women with cervical cancer will need major surgery. Removal of the cervix and uterus (hysterectomy) to completely rid the body of cancerous cells may be a part of a treatment program in severe cases of cervical cancer. Factors such as a woman’s age and if they already have children would be considered.
There have been cases of younger women having a radical trachelectomy and pelvic lymphadenectomy, which meant while they have undergone radical surgery they can still have children. Chelsea Farry, one of ACCF’s ambassadors underwent this surgery and tells her story.
CERVICAL SCREENING TEST
How will I know if I have HPV?
Approximately four out of five people will contract HPV at some point in their life. Most of these people will not know that they have contracted the virus and in the majority of cases it will clear up naturally. There are around 100 different types of HPV and some of these can cause ‘low risk symptoms’ such as genital warts. However, the majority, including those that most commonly lead to cervical cancer, do not carry any noticeable symptoms. Most types of HPV will clear up before you even know that you have it.
The most effective way to detect HPV is through having a Cervical Screening Test (or HPV test), 5 yearly or as recommended by your doctor.
I have had a full hysterectomy, do I still need to have a Cervical Screening Test?
It is important, no matter what type of hysterectomy or surgery you have had to discuss your need for future Cervical Screening Tests with your doctor. Women who have had a hysterectomy usually do not require further cervical screenings, however, in some cases, Cervical Screening Tests may still be needed.
Women who have had a total hysterectomy, that is, the uterus and cervix removed, and have ever had treatment for severe changes on the cervix, are recommended to continue to have tests taken from the upper vagina (known as vault smears).
- Women who have had a hysterectomy but have never had a cervical screening should also have a vault smear.
- Women who have had a partial hysterectomy, where the cervix is not removed, should still have a Cervical Screening Test every five years.
Many women do not know exactly what type of hysterectomy they had. If you are not sure, it is important to find out by speaking to your doctor.
I’ve been through menopause; do I still need to have a Cervical Screening Test?
Cervical Screening Tests are recommended every 5 years from the age of 25-74, unless your doctor advises otherwise. The risk of getting cervical cancer is the same even after menopause so it is important to keep having Cervical Screening Tests every five years.
I have specific health needs: how can these affect Cervical Screening Test?
It is important to see a health professional regarding specific health needs. The Cancer Institute NSW provides information on pregnancy, early sexual intercourse, sexual abuse, immune-deficiency and DES exposure.
When should I stop having Cervical Screening Tests?
Cervical Screening Tests are recommended every 5 years from the age of 25-74, unless your doctor advises otherwise. If you are 70 years or over and have had regular Cervical Screening Tests, you will be recommended to have an exit HPV Test, but you can continue to undertake cervical screening if you would like to. Women who are over 70 years who have never had a Cervical Screening Test, or any woman who requests a HPV Test, can make an appointment to be screened.
Where can I go to get a Cervical Screening Test?
- Your general practitioner;
- a community or women’s health centre;
- a family planning or sexual health clinic;
- a women’s health nurse; or
- an Aboriginal Medical Service.
Some women feel uncomfortable seeing their regular GP for a Cervical Screening Test. It is important you find a GP, nurse or clinic you feel comfortable with and it is important to remember that 2 minutes could literally save your life.
More info about ACCF
Phone: 07 3177 1099
Post: PO Box 1008 Fortitude Valley QLD 4006