Studies conducted in recent years have shown a link between cervical cancer and human papillomavirus, which is sexually transmitted. Today, according to experts, almost all types of cancer of this type are associated with this virus. HPV type 16 in women - what is it?
Papillomas: portrait of an invisible enemy
Oncology of the cervix develops from precancerous conditions induced by various types of human papillomavirus, and abbreviated HPV. In general, these viruses are divided into two large families. Some have an effect on the skin, the second - on the mucous membranes.
Mostly infections of this type are benign, such as warts or condylomas, but there are also those that lead to the development of cancer. However, there is one thing: even benign types of the virus can be a precancerous condition and cause dysplasia. And over time, even they can develop into cervical cancer. Thus, papilloma viruses cause from 80 to 100% of cases of malignant tumors of the uterine organ. Moreover, the risk of developing oncology in uninfected women is almost zero.
There are about 120 papilloma genotypes. However, among the different types of viruses, not all are equally carcinogenic. The most dangerous of them are considered HPV 16 and type 18 in women, because they are involved in the development of cervical cancer. In this case, HPV type 18 in women provokes cancer only in 20% of cases. Other types of this oncogenic virus, such as HPV 31, 33, 35, lead to cancer even less.
Of course, this does not mean that these viruses are less dangerous, they just are less present in our environment. In Colombia, for example, more than half of cancers of the cervix are the result of infection with HPV type 45.
Causes of pathology
HPV is the most common viral infection that is sexually transmitted. According to studies, the percentage of its carriers varies from 20 to 25 at the age of up to 25 years, and then there is a gradual decrease to 10%. The risk of infection increases to 60% 5 years after the onset of sexual activity, but then decreases and falls to 5-10% after 40-45 years.
HPV infections, even of an oncogenic type of virus, are usually transient, because the body eliminates them within 6-13 months after infection. In this case, there is no particular risk of developing cancer. Only chronic infection with HPV 16 and 18 types can cause cervical cancer, but in a very long term, about 10 years.
Chronic infection usually begins with precancerous lesions of I, II, III degree. But even if precancerous conditions appear, the body very often gets rid of the virus. Unfortunately, the factors that influence whether the virus will be eliminated or begin to develop into a cancerous tumor are still unknown.
If untreated, precancerous cells can develop into cervical cancer. That is why it is so important to undergo regular gynecological examinations every 3 years between the ages of 25 and 65. Pre-cancerous conditions develop relatively slowly, so regular smears can detect such abnormalities before they become malignant.
Symptoms of HPV infection
Clinical manifestations, depending on the site of the infection, the type of HPV and the patient’s immune status, may appear several weeks, months or even years after the initial infection. In HIV-infected women, the first signs appear during the first years of sexual activity.
HPV lesions can develop only at the age of about 30-40 years. They occur in the form of warts on the walls of the vagina or external genital organs and are most often found only in the analysis of a systematic smear.
To date, there are no such tests that could reliably identify the malignant type of papilloma, as well as how long the infection plans to linger in the body and whether cancer cells will develop or not.
The main risk factors for long-term HPV infection include:
- early onset of sexual activity;
- frequent change of sexual partners;
- smoking, including passive.
Can HPV infection be prevented?
The best protection against HPV infection is vaccination. It is estimated that almost 80% of the sexually active population is at risk of infection with human papillomavirus infection. That is why vaccination is recommended for girls before their first sexual contact, that is, before the virus has entered the body.
To date, vaccination is carried out on four types of virus:
- from two benign, which in 90% of cases lead to the formation of warts and warts;
- from HPV 16 and type 18, causing cancer in 70% of infections.
Vaccination is important, but since it does not protect against all types of HPV, regular checks and smears still do not lose their relevance.
Is HPV treated or not?
Unfortunately, no effective treatment for HPV type 16 in women has yet been developed. But there is the possibility of treating the effects of the virus on epithelial cells. It includes:
- removal of warts, papillomas, warts in the genital area using cryotherapy, that is, by freezing;
- removal of the affected areas of the cervix - the so-called conization.
There are three types of conization:
- surgical removal using a scalpel;
- electric loop
It is important to understand: there is always the risk that the HPV infection could remain in the cells that were not yet altered, which were located near the distant sites. Treatment options should be discussed with a health professional to determine a more effective method in each case. Individuals with immunodeficiency, especially HIV-positive, require special attention.
People who have become sexually infected with HPV should not be condemned, as this is not an indication of personal behavior. It is important to know that you can lead a healthy lifestyle, including sexual, even with this infection. In addition, HPV infection does not so often develop into cancer.