Signs and symptoms of HPV

How do you know you have HPV?

Most people will have contracted an HPV infection before the age of 50, but will never know they have it and will have absolutely no problems because most of the time, the HPV virus clears up by itself.

Having HPV does not mean you have a disease. Most people who get HPV don't even have any signs or symptoms.

There are, however, some low risk types of the HPV virus that cause genital warts, and these can appear several weeks, and sometimes months, after sexual contact. In rare instances, the virus persists, especially the high risk types of the HPV virus, and can develop pre-cancerous lesions and cancer. For woman, the Pap test is an effective way to find early signs of abnormalities and pre-cancerous cells in the cervix.

There is an HPV test that can detect high-risk HPV strains in DNA from the body’s cells. But it is not included in the regular STI testing because it is not widely accessible. Currently, the test is usually only used in rare circumstances, either when a physician recommends it or when a woman has abnormal results on her Pap test. Many parts of Canada do not have the test, and since it may not be covered by your health plan, you may have to pay about $90 for it.

Why Pap tests are important

A woman should have her first Pap test within three years of becoming sexually active, and then every two years after that.

The Pap test is the only way to detect abnormal cells in your cervix. If you have an abnormal Pap test, this may mean that there are cells that are pre-cursors to cancer and there is a small chance that you may develop cancer. This can be treated successfully at this stage because the progression to cancer takes many years, sometimes up to 10 years.

HPV Information Fact Sheets

FAQ

If you have a normal Pap test three years in a row, you may have a Pap test every three years until age 70, as long as no abnormalities are detected.

Pap testing is one of the great public-health success stories in Canada. Since widespread testing has been introduced in the 1960s, the incidence of cervical cancer has been reduced by 80%.