Why do we take a pap test?
In Norway, September is the month when we remind and encourage women to do a pap test. Most women know that we take a pap test to prevent cervical cancer, but few people know that cervical cancer comes from an HPV virus. The HPV virus is our most common sexually transmitted infection, and not chlamydia as many believe.
- There is a high probability that you have or have had the HPV virus without knowing it, explains Daniel Sørli, doctor at Dr.Dropin
What is the HPV-virus?
– You do not have to worry even if you have been infected with the HPV virus. The vast majority of HPV viruses are completely harmless. Still, we need awareness of why it is both important to be vaccinated against the HPV virus and to follow the Cervical Program. It saves lives, says Doctor Daniel Sørli.
– Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection we have. Of all sexually active people, over 70 percent get this virus, so it is more the rule than the exception to get infected, he says.
What many people do not know is that the HPV virus is transmitted through both skin and mucous membranes so the use of a condom does not provide 100 percent protection. In addition, the virus is transmitted between boys and girls, girls and girls, and between boys and boys. The virus is highly contagious, and you have the most significant risk of becoming infected if you have many sexual partners. Most often, the HPV infection is completely symptom-free and goes away on its own.
Below, a doctor at Dr.Dropin, Daniel Sørli, goes through the most important things you need to know about the HVP virus.
1: HPV virus can cause cell changes
1: HPV virus can cause cell changes
There are over 100 variants of the HPV virus. Most are completely harmless, but there are a few variants that can lead to serious cell changes, which in turn can lead to cervical cancer. The body fights most HPV infections on its own, but with some the HPV infection persists and becomes a chronic infection. This infection can lead to cell changes, most often in the cells of the cervix.
– It is these cell changes we look for when we take a pap test in the Cervical Program, Sørli explains.
– It can take 10-20 years for an HPV infection to develop into cancer. You therefore have many opportunities to discover a development, and save lives through pap tests every three years, in the Cervical program, says Daniel.
2. Why does the screening program only start at the age of 25?
Many people wonder why you should not check for cell changes until you are 25 years old, and why you should continue to check yourself if you have a permanent partner.
– Adolescents who change sexual partners frequently are quite likely to have the HPV virus. Fortunately, our body is able to fight most HPV infections, and therefore it will lead to overtreatment if everyone under 25 is to be checked, Sørli explains.
The vast majority of women get rid of HPV infection after 15-20 months. In 50-70% of cases of HPV infection in women, the body produces antibodies, while in men it occurs in 4-36%. A naturally occurring HPV infection will thus provide little protection against later HPV infections, even those not of the same HPV type. Still, the HPV vaccine provides good protection against later infection.
– However, it is important to be aware of abdominal ailments and symptoms such as pain, changes in discharge or irregular bleeding, especially after intercourse, regardless of age. Then you should always see a doctor, Sørli points out.