Did you know that a common virus, spread through sexual contact, is the cause of almost all cervical cancer and several other cancers? Here’s how you can protect yourself and others.
Most sexually active people will be exposed to HPV at some point in their lives. It can be present without causing any symptoms, meaning someone can have the virus and pass it on without even knowing it.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to lower your chances of getting or spreading HPV.
HPV vaccines are highly effective at protecting against infection from certain types of HPV that are known to cause genital warts as well as cancers of the anus, cervix, penis, vagina, vulva, mouth and throat. HPV vaccination also helps prevent the spread of HPV infection to others. It is expected that as more and more Canadians receive the HPV vaccine, rates of HPV will decline.
Here in B.C., two vaccines are currently available: Gardasil®9 (HPV9) and Cervarix® (HPV2). Both are provided for free to those who are eligible, including all grade six students. HPV9 is approved for use in males and females, and HPV2 is only approved for use in females.
HPV9 provides excellent protection against nine common types of HPV:
- Two HPV types that cause 90 to 100 per cent of genital warts;
- Two HPV types that cause 70 per cent of cases of cervical cancer and 80 per cent of cases of anal cancer; and,
- Five additional types that cause 15 to 20 per cent of cervical cancers and 11 per cent of anal cancers in women and 4 per cent in men
HPV vaccines are most effective when given before a person has any sexual contact, which is when exposure to the virus occurs. The evidence also shows that preteens (ages 11 to 12) respond better to the vaccine and produce higher levels of antibodies that fight infection compared to older teens and adults.
HPV vaccines are safe and highly effective at protecting children and adults from HPV-related diseases. Hundreds of millions of doses have been distributed worldwide, and there have been no serious safety concerns.
Learn more about the HPV vaccine.
It’s a good idea to talk with your partner about safer sex, especially if you have new sexual partners or open relationships.
- Anyone who has had any sexual contact with a person, even if just one person, can be exposed to HPV. However, HPV infections are more likely in people who have had multiple sexual partners, or have a sexual partner who has had multiple sexual partners.
- Condoms may minimize a person’s chance of being exposed to HPV but don’t guarantee complete protection against HPV because they don’t cover all areas of the genitals that could get infected. Still, condom use provides excellent protection against other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
- If you have unprotected sex, a new sexual partner, or if you have had multiple partners, it’s important to get tested regularly for other STIs (e.g., chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, syphilis)—even if you don’t have any symptoms.
The HPV vaccine protects against most cervical cancers, but not all. That’s why regular cervical screening is important, even if you’ve had the HPV vaccine. Attending routine screening when it’s recommended for you can reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer by up to 70 per cent.
At this time in B.C., cervical screening is done with Pap testing. A Pap test doesn’t directly test for cancer or HPV, but it can spot changes in cells in your cervix so they can be treated before cancer develops. Currently, there is no screening available for other HPV-related cancers.
Anyone with a cervix, including women, transgender, non-binary and gender-diverse people, ages 25 to 69 should be screened every three years. Some people may require more frequent screening (e.g., people living with HIV or those who have had a solid organ transplant).
If you are unsure when screening is recommended for you, or if have any concerning symptoms or changes to your medical condition, please speak with a health care provider.
Learn more about how to get screened for cervical cancer.