Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Pap Series part 4: Human Pap-a What? or HPV

***In order to keep this series light-hearted and easy to read I am not going to quote or site any sources except the knowledge of what I have learned through conferences, school, from pathologists and others who have gone on before me. THIS IS NOT TO REPLACE ANYTHING YOUR DOCTOR/NURSE PRACTITIONER/MIDWIFE/PA etc IS TELLING YOU. This is just some easy to read information*** Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

Isn't HPV a pretty molecule?? Found HERE

Let me tell you, the HPV, or Human Papillomavirus, is some crazy stuff. This is an additional test that is often done at the same time as your pap smear. This additional test checks to see if they can identify a virus in the cervical cells that may increase your risk of cervical cancer.

The HPV virus is crazy because there are sooo many variations of the virus. I think they have identified at least 40 different strains of the virus that effect the lower genital tract... ie... the girly parts. Some of these HPV strains are considered "LOW RISK" because they only produce genital warts. The others are considered "HIGH RISK" because they have been found to be the cause of certain cervical cancers.

The debate comes in as if this is a true STD. Well, yes, it is a sexually transmitted disease, but they are investigating other modes of transmission, so sex might not be the only way to transmit HPV. Skin to skin contact for one. Some are researching transmission through childbirth as well. However it is transmitted, it is transmitted and unfortunately we don't test men for it. Men don't know when they have HPV, there isn't a treatment for it, and they just recently started recommending vaccinating for HPV (only 4 of the 40+ strains are covered in the vaccine).

So men don't know they have it but it is transmitted and then women become infected with the HPV virus. An infection of the virus can lay dormant for years, only surfacing in times of decreased immunity- like pregnancy, sickness, stress, etc. This infection can lay dormant for years and then it can start "acting up" or causing changes in the cells on the cervix.

Over time the HPV can cause damaging changes on the cervical cells which can eventually lead to cervical cancer if your body isn't strong enough to fight off the HPV and heal the damaged cells. We don't have signs or symptoms of HPV, we really only detect it through testing with your pap smear. When I say eventually this is usually a long process--- sometimes 5 to 10 to even 20 years later!

If you are under the age of 30 the current standard of care is to only check for HPV if the cells are abnormal on your pap smear. After the age of 30 the standard of care is to check for HPV on all pap smears.

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