October 21, 2022
HPV is a group of more than 100 related viruses, with each virus given a number (HPV type). They affect different parts of the body and about 30 types of HPV can affect the genitals.
HPV infection can cause cervical, vulva, and vagina cancers in females.
For men, HPV infection can cause genital warts and anal cancer.
HPV is transmitted by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus. It can be passed even when an infected person has no signs or symptoms.
"High-risk" strains can infect the genitals of both genders - the vulva, vagina, cervix, penis and scrotum, as well as the rectum and anus, and lead to precancerous or cancerous changes. HPV types 16 and 18 account for about 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. "Low-risk" types of HPV are primarily responsible for genital warts in males and females.
In Singapore, the MOH recommendation is for sexually active women aged 30 years and above, to have HPV screening every 5 years. Between 25-29 years old, the recommended screening is via a Pap smear if the woman has ever been sexually active. To reduce your risk of HPV infection, you can take the HPV vaccination.
The Pap smear screens for abnormal changes in the cervical cells. It is recommended to be done every three years, for women between 25 to 29 years old. As the body may be able to clear infections on its own, going for a HPV test at this age may not be necessary.
How is a Pap smear done?
It is a fast and simple procedure where an instrument is inserted into your vagina to locate the cervix. A soft brush is then used to collect some cells from your cervix. These cells will be sent to a laboratory to be examined under a microscope.
The HPV test screens for the high-risk cancer-causing HPV strains (eg. 16, 18) in the cervical cells. It is recommended that those aged 30 years and above do a HPV screening test every five years. At this age, the HPV test is a more effective test in in determining cervical cancer. This is because while your cells may appear normal, with the presence of high-risk HPV strains, the risk of your cells developing pre-cancer or cancerous changes in the future is higher, necessitating close follow-up with a gynaecologist.
The sample cells are collected via the same procedure as the Pap smear. However, your cells will be tested for the presence of HPV.
Source: Raffles Medical Group
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