HPV (Human Papilloma Virus)
How common is HPV?
Human Papilloma Virus is a very common infection and 75-80% women (and men) get it at some stage in life. It usually produces no symptoms and many women will not even know that they have had the infection. Most (95%) women who have HPV shake it off through their immunity, but in some women it may linger on and cause abnormal smears.
Is HPV infection sexually transmitted?
HPV infection can be sexually transmitted but can also be acquired by genital contact. Barrier contraception is protective to some extent but not 100% protective. HPV infection can persist in the body for many years and it may not be possible to pinpoint exactly who you got the infection from. HPV infection in fact is so common that it is just a marker of having had sex in the past.
Can HPV cause cervical cancer?
HPV does cause cervical cancer, but only in a very, very small proportion of cases. That’s why HPV infection is very common, but cervical cancer is very rare. In most cases of HPV infection, the immune system will get rid of the infection for you. From acquiring HPV infection to getting cervical cancer, it takes between 10 to 15 years. This means that if you have regular smear tests every 3 years, the abnormality will be detected much before it becomes anything serious. The risk of getting cervical cancer is extremely low if you have regular smear tests as suggested by your GP.
There are over 100 different types of HPV virus and only 14 of them are high risk types associated with cervical cancer. The commonest high risk types are 16, 18, 31, 33 and 45.
Does the HPV Virus also cause genital warts?
The low risk types (6 and 11) of HPV virus can cause Genital Warts. These types carry a low risk of causing cervical cancer.
Is it possible to test for HPV?
HPV test can be carried out by a doctor/nurse by taking a swab from the cervix. Routine HPV testing is not recommended under the NHS Cervical Screening Programme and the HPV test is used in certain special clinical circumstances.
What about self testing?
Self testing kits are now available and very reliable, infact in Australia self testing kits are now part of the national cervical screening programme for ladies who don’t attend smear tests. Evidence suggests that HPV self collected test is more sensitive than a physician collected PAP smear. You can purchase a self testing kit at www.london-gynaecology.com/hpv-test-kits/
Is it necessary to treat HPV infection?
It is not necessary to treat HPV infection unless it causes a smear abnormality. Your immunity will usually (in 95% cases) get rid of the infection.
What about nutritional support for HPV?
The immune system plays an important role in ridding the body of HPV, nutritional strategies focus on supporting the immune system. Vitamin A&E and folate all play and important role. Phytonutrients (specific plant compounds), were also found to be beneficial, specifically alpha/beta carotene, lycopene and lutein.
To support the body through HPV virus, you should:
- Eat a large variety of brightly coloured fresh vegetables –the brighter or darker the colour, the more concentrated the phytonutrients. Eat orange coloured fruits and vegetables; sweet potatoes, carrots, squash and pumpkins, apricots and peaches. Green vegetables are high in folate; broccoli, kale, sprouts and cabbage and dark green leaves e.g. rocket, spinach, watercress and fresh herbs. Purple and red veg and fruits are high in lycopene; tomatoes, beetroot, blueberries.
Aim for a ‘rainbow’ of vegetables daily, and a large variety across the week:
- Eat oily foods for their high vitamin E content – avocado, coconut, raw nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, pine nuts and pumpkin seeds). Include a daily serving – avocado on toast, a handful of mixed nuts as a snack and seeds sprinkled on salads or soup.
- Get an intake of vitamin A (retinol): Retinol is only found in animal foods – liver and offal and fatty fish. Eat organic lamb or chicken liver weekly and a bi-weekly serving of oily fish. Vegetarians should increase their orange-coloured vegetable intake as our bodies are able to convert beta carotene into retinol.
- Avoid or reduce sugary / processed foods which can negatively affect immunity.
What about HPV vaccination?
Some common types of HPV (16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, 58, 6 & 11) can be vaccinated against. GARDASIL-9 Vaccination is now available and is a three-injection course.
Ideally, HPV vaccination should be carried out before sexual debut. However, less than 1% of women are exposed to all nine types that the vaccine protects against. 99% of women are therefore likely to benefit from this vaccination even if you are sexually active.
The vaccine will now protect against 90% of all cervical cancers and cervical screening in the form of smear test is necessary even if you have been vaccinated. It also protects against 90% of genital warts.
For further information on HPV vaccine, click here.
Where can I find out more information or access any useful support services?
For support visit Jo’s Trust, the UK’s leading cervical cancer charity that provides vital support services in addition to events, an information hub and a dedicated helpline.