HPV and Cervical Cancer
HPV and Cervical Cancer are greater risks for women with HIV. The cervix is the opening of the uterus (womb) and connects the uterus to the vagina. Cervical cancer occurs when normal cells in the cervix change into cancer cells. Before the cells turn into cancer, abnormal cells (also called cervical dysplasia) develop on the cervix.
A Pap test finds abnormal cells on your cervix. If you have abnormal cells, your doctor may also want to give you an HPV test to see if HPV caused the abnormal cells. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of viruses, some of which cause these abnormal changes on the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer. HPV is very common, and you can get it through sexual contact with another person who has HPV. There are many different types, or strains, of HPV, each identified by a number. The "high risk" types cause abnormal cells that develop on your cervix that can lead to cancer. There is no treatment or cure for the HPV virus, but sometimes HPV will go away on its own.
HIV positive women are more likely to get HPV and have high-risk strains of HPV. If you have abnormal cells or HPV, it does NOT mean you'll get cervical cancer. Treating the cervix before the abnormal cells become cancerous can prevent future cancer. If you have abnormal cells, talk to your doctor about whether treatment is right for you.
There are ways to prevent cervical cancer:
- Get a complete gynecologic exam. This includes a Pap test and pelvic exam. A Pap test will find abnormal cells that can lead to cervical cancer.
- Get a Pap test two times during the first year after you're diagnosed with HIV. If results are normal, get a Pap test once a year.
- If results are not normal, talk to your doctor about how often you should get a Pap test and the next steps to take.
There are also other steps to take to help prevent cervical cancer:
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet with delicious fruits and vegetables. In particular, carotene and vitamins C and E may lower your risk of cervical cancer. Carotene is found in tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, and broccoli. You can get vitamin C by eating fruits, especially citrus fruits and vegetables. Load up on oranges, green and red peppers, broccoli, papayas, and strawberries. Good sources of vitamin E include oils such as safflower and corn, wheat germ, and sunflower seeds and nuts (almonds, peanuts, and hazelnuts).
- Don't smoke.
- If you have sex, stay with one partner who only has sex with you. Use condoms every time. Condoms may reduce your chances of getting HPV (causes cervical cancer) but not protect you all the time from getting it. You can get HPV from skin-to-skin contact with sores or infected genital skin that looks normal.