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What is HPV?


HPV, also known as human papillomavirus, is a type of virus transmitted through oral, anal, and vaginal intercourse. It is a very common sexually transmitted disease (STD). There are over 100 types of HPV, of which several strains are cancer-causing (also known as high-risk types). HPV has been associated with not only cervical cancer but also vulva, penile, and anal cancer.


Why is it important to screen for HPV?


An infected person often does not experience any symptoms. Over the years, these high-risk strains of HPV may lead to cancers. Currently, survival cancer is the 4th most common cancer amongst women. There are no treatments for HPV. However, if detected early, interventions such as surgeries may prevent the cancer from spreading.


Who is at risk of HPV infection?


High risk populations include the following:

  • Unprotected sexual intercourse with multiple partners

  • A weakened immune system e.g., HIV

  • Smoking


What are the symptoms of HPV?


Most people may not experience any symptoms. Some may notice painless warts in the genital area or in the oral region including the base of the tongue and throat.


How can I prevent HPV infection?


It is recommended that you use barrier protection when having sexual intercourse which your partners. The HPV vaccination is highly effective and covers two of the most common cancer-causing strains (type 16 and 18). Some vaccines cover up to 9 strains. Current guidelines recommend girls to be vaccinated from age 9 to 14.


While most countries have not recommended the vaccines for women aged 26 and above, you could still consider the HPV vaccination even if you are in your 20s or 30s, before your first exposure to HPV. Boys could also consider the vaccine. You should discuss with your doctor if the HPV vaccine is beneficial for you.


Nonetheless, you should still screen regularly for cervical cancer. An HPV test is recommended once every three to five years, depending on the risk factors.


To find out more about cervical cancer and prevention, click here.


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