Recently, there has been an increase in the number of people seeking information about HPV (human papillomavirus).
Last year, Loose Women star Stacey Solomon revealed that she was diagnosed with the condition after giving birth to her third child, Rex.
Web searches for the disease have increased over the past month, with the most frequently asked question being, “What does it mean to be positive for HPV?” »An increase of 1.375%.
“There seems to be a lot of confusion about what HPV is, as well as its causes, symptoms and effects,” says Dr. Sameer Sanghvi, head of clinical technology at LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor.
So why this sudden interest in HPV? Part of this could be due to changes in cervical screening or smear tests, which now mainly check for HPV. Women who test positive wonder what this means to them.
And the easing of the lockdown has led to an increase in sexual activity, prompting questions about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
But for starters, HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI), not an STD, which most of us never know we have had.
However, for some women it can be quite devastating.
Read on to find out more …
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What is HPV?
“HPV is an STI that is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact with the genital area; vaginal, anal or oral sex, or sharing sex toys, ”says Dr Sanghvi. “It is responsible for 97.7% of cervical cancer cases, which is why early identification of HPV is very important. “
Dr Sanghvi adds, “But HPV is an incredibly common virus. In fact, eight in ten people will suffer from it at some point in their life. They won’t have any symptoms and their body will fight it off without them even realizing it.
Of the millions of positive tests each year, only a very small number of cases will develop into cancer.
Across Britain, cervical samples taken during screening are now tested for HPV first.
“Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV, so testing for HPV is the most effective way to identify people at risk of developing abnormal cells and potentially cervical cancer. uterus, ”says Dr. Sanghvi.
“If your smear shows you are HPV positive, then your sample will be tested to see if there have been any cellular changes. Cellular changes are what could cause cancer. If any abnormal cells are found, you will be asked to have a colposcopy.
“It’s a simple procedure that examines your cervix with a small microscope. If no abnormal cells are found, you will be invited for another cervical screening in a year.
Some private clinics and local authorities in London offer HPV home testing kits. It is hoped that home testing may appeal to some of the 1.5 million women who miss cervical screening appointments each year.
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There are hundreds of types of HPV and only 13 of them are considered high risk – these are the ones that can cause cancer.
The main type of cancer linked to HPV is cervical cancer, although there are others, including anal and vaginal cancer.
Cancer of the cervix remains rare, less than 1% developing it. There are 2,500 new cases of cervical cancer in England every year, but research suggests that a quarter of those could be prevented with this new testing method.
“The best way to make sure you are not at risk for cervical cancer is to attend regular screenings when your GP invites you,” says Dr Sanghvi. “It’s also important to know the symptoms of cervical cancer, just in case it goes undetected during screening.”
Warts and all
“In rare cases, certain strains of HPV can cause recurrent genital warts,” says Dr. Sanghvi. “For men, it can mean small, flesh-colored bumps on and around the genitals. Women may have small, flesh-colored bumps on the vulva.
“Warts can be treated, but since the virus often remains on the skin, there is a chance that they will come back.”
Can I get a jab?
Since 2008, the HPV vaccine, designed to protect against the most risky strains, has been administered to girls from the age of 12. Boys were added to the program in 2019.
Women up to 25 years old can also get the vaccine free of charge, as can men up to 45 years old who have sex with men.
If you don’t qualify, anyone over 18 can pay to receive the jab. Some chemists, such as Lloyds and Boots, and health centers offer this service. It costs £ 165 for a dose and a course of two to three is required.
Can I still have sex?
People who test positive for HPV are not currently advised to stop having sex. This is because HPV is already prevalent in the population. Unlike other STIs, such as herpes and chlamydia, which are spread during sex, HPV can be transmitted simply through skin-to-skin contact, making it difficult to prevent.
“You can have sex if you or your partner has HPV, but you can pass it on,” says Dr. Sanghvi. “While for many people the infection will be harmless and go away on its own, for some it could cause genital warts and for others cell changes that can cause cancer. “
To control HPV infections and reduce the risk of spreading, you need to:
Clean up any sex toys you share with your partner (s)
Symptoms of cervical cancer
See your GP if you have any of the following:
Abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as after sex, between periods, or after menopause
Heavier periods that last longer than normal
Pain during intercourse
Vaginal discharge and odor
“Trust your instincts, listen to your body and let yourself be controlled”
A mother of three recounts her shock at being diagnosed with cancer despite having clear smears.
Donna Bradbury, 38, of Lincoln, is a teacher. She is married to Martin, also 38 years old and a teacher, and they have three boys aged 13, nine and two.
“I was up to date on my smear tests and didn’t owe another for six months. So when I started having abnormal bleeding last June, cervical cancer certainly didn’t cross my mind.
“My GP thought I had bacterial vaginosis and prescribed me antibiotics. But the bleeding continued, including after sex, so I took a swab and then two ultrasounds.
“Everything came back clear. I was reassured but knew the bleeding couldn’t be normal, so I went back to the doctor. I was sent for a colposcopy and biopsy.
“I knew something was seriously wrong when the nurse asked me, ‘Did you come alone today? “
“Due to the Covid-19 restrictions, Martin had been forced to drop me off. After the doctor said I had cervical cancer, I went home in tears. It was such a shock. Cancer hadn’t been on my radar.
“I even called the doctor back to verify it was true. It was surreal. I was told I had a 6cm tumor in stage 2B, which has probably been growing for a year.
“Luckily he hadn’t spread – but surgery wasn’t possible due to his position, so I had to hope the chemotherapy and radiation therapy would work.
“The treatment was an ordeal, made worse by not being able to see family and friends during confinement. I was in so much pain from the radiation that I couldn’t walk for weeks. And all the time, I was afraid of not being successful for my children.
“Writing about my experience on Instagram has really helped me and I have bonded with many women struggling with gynoeceal cancers like mine. And I was very open about my treatment.
“It helped me find the positives, especially when women told me that they delayed seeing their GP until they heard my story.
“In March, I got it all and felt very lucky and grateful. I will have regular check-ups but I hope I am doing well now. I don’t mean to scare other women off, but it’s important to know that in very rare cases like mine having a clear smear doesn’t mean you don’t have cervical cancer.
“Listen to your body and trust your instincts. If you have abnormal bleeding, get it checked and continue until you get a response.
Follow Donna on Instagram @my_cervical_cancer_journey