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I have HPV in my pap smear, now what?

HPV virus

One of the most important reasons to have a pap smear is to detect the presence of the HPV.

HPV can cause cancer of the genital tract up to 30 years after infection.

The virus can be dormant in the body and can become active at any time during the life span of the patient.

Older women in their 50`s and 60`s who are putting off screening because they think that they are not at risk of developing cancer anymore should know that it is still important keep a regular screening schedule. (Laura Marlow of University College London in the UK,, STD online August 8, 2019).

In my daily gynecological practice, I encounter numerous patients in their 70s and 80s who may be widowed and have not engaged in sexual activity for many years. Surprisingly, some of these individuals test positive for HPV, which might seem perplexing at first. However, this occurrence can be attributed to the ability of the HPV virus to remain latent and inactive in the body for extended periods.

The latent state of HPV means that it remains in the body without showing any signs or causing any symptoms. As a result, individuals may carry the virus unknowingly for a prolonged time, even if they have not been sexually active. Despite the absence of symptoms, it is essential to understand that the virus still has the potential to reactivate at some point in the future.

The reactivation of HPV can be unpredictable, and there is no precise way to determine when or how the virus might become active again. When reactivation occurs, it can lead to the expression of its malignant potential, potentially resulting in abnormal cell changes and increasing the risk of developing cervical or other HPV-related cancers.

As a medical practitioner, it is crucial to remain vigilant and inform patients about the possibility of latent HPV and the importance of regular screening and check-ups, even in the absence of recent sexual activity. This will help in early detection and timely management of any potential complications related to HPV.

Dr. Lucia Cagnes Dr. Cagnes is a double certified Ob/ Gyn doctor in Europe as well as in the USA. She has been in practice in the US for more than 23 years.

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