HPV, or to give it its full name, “Human Papilloma Virus”, is an infection that three quarters of sexually active women contract at some stage of their lives, although most are never aware of it. It attacks the skin and the moist membranes of the body in areas such as the anus, the cervix, the mouth and the throat. The most common outcome of a HPV infection is genital warts, but it can also lead to abnormal cell growth which may result in cervical cancer. If you live and/or work in London, you can use the convenient walk-in women health services offered by Broadgate Clinic London Wall to have an HPV smear test.
HPV is not always harmful
There are more than 100 strains of the Human Papilloma Virus. Of this 100, approximately 40 can have an effect of the genital area. In many instances there are no symptoms and HPV does little or no damage. In terms of minor damage it can cause warts to appear on the skin, and verucas on the feet. Although it is often associated more with men than women, both genders can be infected.
Increased risk factors
Factors that increase the risk of an HPV infection include:
- Having several different sex partners
- Being sexually active at an early age
- Smoking tobacco
In the majority of instances HPV is a self-limiting infection. In actual fact, 9 out of 10 cases of HPV are handled and cured automatically by the human immune system, often without the victim ever being aware.
How is an HPV infection treated?
There is no treatment for HPV as such, but there is a vaccination that when given will significantly reduce the chances of acquiring an infection.
UK cervical cancer statistics
Statistics available from Cancer Research UK show that cervical cancer is the second most common cancer here in the UK in women under the age of 35. Approximately 2,900 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year.
The HPV vaccination
It takes many years for an HPV infection to result in cervical cancer. However, it is a significant risk factor, and the fact that in the majority of cases it is symptomless; it is insidious in nature if it isn’t self-curing. This is why the national HPV vaccination program was introduced.
Girls between the ages of 12 and 13 are offered the vaccination at school. Prior to September 2014, the HPV vaccination was delivered in 3 injections, over a period of 6 to 12 months. Since September 2014 the vaccine has been modified and needs to be injected only twice. Once delivered, immunity lasts for up to 20 years. The test is available on the NHS up until the age of 18. In girls of 15 years-of-age and over, and in older women, the 3 injection vaccine is favoured to offer best protection.
While the vaccination is in the main very effective in affording protection, it does not guarantee immunity. This is why the cervical smear test was introduced. It is offered every 3-years to women in the age group 25 to 49, and every 5 years to women in the age group 50 to 64.
If you live and/or work in London, and you have not been vaccinated you can have the vaccination at the walk-in women health services clinic at Broadgate Clinic London Wall.
What is an HPV smear test?
An HPV smear test and a cervical smear test are one and the same thing. Usually referred to as a cervical smear test; the test looks for the presence of an HPV infection and/or any abnormal cells.
How an HPV smear test performed
In preparation for a smear test you should wear loose-fitting, easy to remove lower garments. You will be instructed to remove your lower garments, lie on your back and put your feet into two stirrups. You may wish to wear socks which you can keep on if the stirrups are cold. You will then undergo a brief visual examination of the genital area, and a smear will be gathered from your cervix.
The test is carried out using a number of small instruments:
A speculum – designed to spread the vagina giving clear access to the cervix
A plastic spatula – to gently scrape the walls of the cervix and gather cells
A small brush – to assist with cell gathering
Once the smear has been gathered, it will be analyzed by microscope. The whole procedure takes no more than approximately 5 minutes and most women feel no physical discomfort.
HPV smear tests and HPV vaccinations are available from Broadgate Clinic London Wall
The walk-in women health services offered by Broadgate Clinic London Wall provide a convenient option for many women who work in London and who have busy work schedules. You can either call-in “on spec” or phone for an appointment. The choice is yours.