HPV, or human papillomavirus, is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States [1]. There are more than 100 varieties of HPV, but most types of HPV will go away on their own without causing any health problems. Other types of HPV can cause warts or different types of cancer, including cervical cancer. More than 42 million Americans are infected with HPV strains that are known to cause disease [2].

Keep reading to learn more about the connection between HPV and cervical cancer and the important role that regular HPV screening plays in preventing cervical cancer or finding it early.

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The connection between HPV and cervical cancer

Infection with HPV is the most important risk factor for developing cervical cancer [3]. There are around 14 types of HPV that are considered high risk for cervical cancer. Two of these types (HPV 16 and HPV 18) cause about 70 out of 100 (70%) of all cervical cancer cases [4].

When high-risk HPV infects cervical cells, it changes the way the cells replicate, divide, and communicate with each other, leading the infected cells to multiply uncontrolled. If the body’s immune system doesn’t recognize and get rid of the infected cells, they will remain and continue to grow until they form an area of precancerous cells, which can become cancer if not treated.

Research has found that it can take 5 to 10 years for HPV-infected cervical cells to develop into precancers and about 20 years to develop into cancer [5]. About 10% of women with HPV infection on their cervix will develop long-lasting HPV infections that put them at risk for cervical cancer [6].

Several factors can increase the risk that the HPV infection will be long-lasting and lead to precancerous cervical cells, including:

  • having a high-risk HPV type, particularly HPV 16 or HPV 18
  • smoking
  • having a weakened immune system or being immunocompromised
  • being infected with HIV
  • taking medicines that suppress your immune system, such as after an organ transplant, to treat an autoimmune disease, or to treat cancer

The importance of HPV screening

Cervical cancer may not cause any symptoms or very few in its beginning stages, meaning that it is often not detected for a long time. Screening for cervical cancer can aid in finding precancerous cervical cell changes when treatment can prevent cervical cancer from developing. The HPV test checks cells for infection with high-risk HPV types that can cause cervical cancer. When cervical cancer is found at an early stage, it is usually easier to treat. By the time symptoms are apparent, cervical cancer may have begun to spread, making treatment more difficult.

According to the American Cancer Society, cervical cancer testing (screening) should begin at age 25. People between the ages of 25 and 65 should have a primary HPV test done every five years. Screening may differ from the recommendations discussed above due to various factors, including personal risk factors and health history. While decisions about cervical cancer screening are becoming increasingly individualized, the most important thing is for individuals to get screened regularly, no matter which test they choose.

Disparities in HPV screening

Over the past 50 years, cervical cancer screening has significantly lowered the number of new cases and deaths from the disease. However, the percentage of women in the United States who are overdue for cervical cancer screening has been growing. About one in five women is unaware of her human papillomavirus testing status [7]. Women who are under-screened are more likely to be diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer at later stages and have worse survival outcomes.

Studies have revealed screening disparities among groups of women. In 2019, compared with non-Hispanic White women, Asian and Hispanic women were more likely to be overdue for screening, as were women who lived in rural areas, lacked insurance, or identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, other, or unsure (LGBQ+) [8].

Various factors can create barriers to screening, such as lack of insurance, costs, geography, and income. According to a study on racial and ethnic differences in cervical cancer screening barriers and intentions [9]:

  • The most commonly reported reasons for not getting screened were lack of insurance (White: 71%, Black: 62%, Hispanic/Latina: 63%) and cost (White: 55%, Black: 44%, Hispanic/Latina: 61%)
  • Older women reported being less likely to intend to screen
  • Black women reported being more likely to intend to screen than White women

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Provide accessible HPV screening with LetsGetChecked

HPV screening can save lives, but people must have access to it to make an impact. According to a recent study, women were more likely to have an intention to screen if they reported “it was not hard to get screening” [10]. Increasing awareness and expanding access to convenient and accessible screening programs can help reduce barriers and increase cervical cancer screening uptake.

LetsGetChecked's prevention program is critical to making HPV screening more accessible and helping identify cervical cancer at an early stage. Our HPV Testing Program makes screening easy and convenient, providing individuals with accessible insight into whether they have a type of HPV that puts them at risk of cervical cancer. This can enable better healthcare decision-making and improved outcomes.

Leveraging our HPV Testing Program increases adherence for at-risk patients to save lives and costs by removing barriers with a simple-to-use program that takes as little as 10 minutes.

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  1. https://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/about-hpv.html
  3. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/types/cervical-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6373819/
  5. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/infectious-agents/hpv-and-cancer
  6. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/hpv/basic_info/index.htm
  7. https://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(23)00165-4/fulltext
  8. https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2022/overdue-cervical-cancer-screening-increasing
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9562154
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36227948