HPV & cervical smears

Nearly all women with smear abnormalities have had an HPV infection in the cervix, vagina or vulva.

HPV is probably the most common STI there is. It’s a fact that most sexually active people will get HPV at some point in their lives. However, most people have no idea they are even infected because most HPV infections do not show any symptoms. Getting HPV in a long-term monogamous relationship does not mean the other partner has been unfaithful. It’s possible that either person has carried the virus in a latent (invisible) form for years without showing any symptoms. Most HPV infections are transient and go away before it causes problems.

What is HPV?

HPV is thought to be the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world. Most people are infected with HPV at some time in their lives. There are over 100 types of HPV. Some HPV types infect the genital area and may cause warts, i.e. "low-risk" (LR) HPV, type 6 & 11. Other HPV types may cause abnormal cell changes in women  of the cervix,  vagina, vulva, anus, or throat (oropharyngeal), these are "high-risk" (HR) HPV often type 16 & 18 and can lead to cancer. Most HPV infections are transient and go away before they cause any health problems.

An abnormal cervical smear hardly ever means cervical cancer.

From the age of 20 all women are encouraged to receive regular cervical smear testing, the main focus of the screening programme is to pick up on the increased risk of developing cervical cancer well before any actual danger manifests. The smear test involves taking cells from the surface of your cervix and then examining them to see if they are normal or have changed in some way. If some cells have changed, the test will indicate how they have changed and what the risks are.

It is from a cervical smear that most women usually find out that they have HPV, however, others will find out because they have developed genital warts. Genital warts are treatable and are often never seen again. It is hard to view an abnormal smear test as a good thing, but on the positive side you know that any dangers have been picked up early and can be monitored and/or treated. Plus, many abnormal smear results turn out to be nothing at all, you may be asked to take a repeat test in three months to confirm any results, or you will be referred to take some other further testing.

Cervical Cancer can be prevented by HPV vaccination and having regular smears.

Want to know more?

Our website is full of useful information on HPV. The links below will take you to the information that is most relevant to you.