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Have you ever wondered what causes skin warts? These bumps and growths that commonly appear on various parts of the body, from the hands and elbows to the balls of the feet, are caused by different strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV).
There are over 150 HPV strains or types of HPV. While most HPV strains are harmless and can be naturally cleared by the body, certain strains increase the risk of cervical cancer in women.
The strains are known as high-risk HPV strains. Women with infected with high-risk HPV strains are at higher risk of developing cervical cancer. However, this does not mean that all women infected with the high-risk HPV strain will develop cervical cancer.
Sometimes the HPV infection clears up on its own and, at other times, it does not. When the HPV infection does not clear up, this persistent HPV infection may lead to cervical cancer.
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All women who have ever had sex sometime in their lives are at risk of cervical cancer. People with weakened immune systems are more likely to get HPV infections, such as those who:
This is because they are unable to fight off any infections effectively. Persistent infections of high-risk HPV strains can lead to cancer.
HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection. The virus is transmitted through close skin contact during sexual activity by an infected sexual partner. Contaminated sex toys also increase the risk of infection.
An infected mother may also pass the virus to her baby during delivery though this is rare.
HPV cannot be spread through contact with contaminated surfaces such as toilet seats and doorknobs unless you happen to have an open wound.
HPV infection symptoms include the presence of warts in the genital area i.e. genital warts and abnormality on the cervix detected during cervical screening.
Unlike many other health problems, high-risk HPV infection does not show up as any symptoms.
People with HPV may not know they have been infected. The only way for women to know if they are infected is to go for cervical cancer screening, do a Pap test or HPV test.
About 90 percent of HPV infections clear up on their own, without the need for medical treatment.
To protect yourself against HPV-related cancer, go for regular
cervical cancer screening to test for the presence of high-risk HPV strains. Any woman who has ever had sex should go for cervical cancer screening.
In Singapore, the guidelines for women between 25 years old and 29 years old is to undergo a Pap test once every three years.
A pap smear is a fast and simple procedure where the doctor or nurse will gently insert an instrument into the vagina to collect some cells using a soft brush.
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An HPV test checks if the cells collected from the cervix has DNA (genetic material) of the high-risk cancer-causing HPV strains. The HPV test is a more effective test compared to a Pap test.
Women aged 30 to 69 should undergo HPV DNA primary testing once every five years. Pap smears are sufficient for women below 30 as their immune systems are able to fight off HPV infections more easily.
If the HPV test is normal, the next screening should be 5 years later. Women who test negative for HPV and later experience symptoms (e.g. genital warts), should see a doctor immediately.
Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Subsidies in SingaporeNational Cervical Cancer Screening ProgrammeMake a Commitment to Get Screened
There are currently three HPV vaccines approved for use in Singapore — Gardasil 4, Gardasil 9 and Cervarix.
While they offer some protection, there is still a chance of getting an HPV infection. Vaccination with regular cervical cancer screening is better protection and prevention.
The HPV vaccines are suitable for females aged nine to 26. Depending on age, either two or three dosages are administered. The vaccination is most effective if it is given before the girl’s first sexual exposure.
Be sure to chat with your doctor before receiving a vaccination. HPV vaccines may not be suitable for people with certain medical conditions such as blood disorders (when the blood is not able to clot properly) and sensitivity to yeast.
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This article was last reviewed on
Friday, September 6, 2019
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