What Is the Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?

By BSc, MSc (embryologist) and BA, MA (fertility counselor).
Last Update: 11/04/2014

Currently and worldwide, the pathology caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), the cervical cancer, is the second most common cause of death in young women (between 15 and 44 years). The first one is breast cancer.

Contrary to common belief, this kind of cancer is not passed on generation to generation, which means, it’s not inherited. This cancer is caused by a family of viruses, the Human Papillomavirus. We can find different types and therefore, they may be milder or more severe.

The different sections of this article have been assembled into the following table of contents.


The prevalence of HPV is 80%, which means eight in every ten women will be exposed to it during their life without knowing it. In most of the cases is our body, the immune system, the one in charge of overcoming the virus.

Prevention of cervical cancer

In order to avoid this pathology, regular visits to the gynecologist must be carried out, where the patient will be examined. This examination must include a vaginal or abdominal ultrasound and a Pap smear.

The Pap smear will examine the cells of the area, checking that there’s no damage, since the Human Papillomavirus can remain latent for 15 years. This means we can be infected with the virus without even realizing about it, for there are no illness’ manifestations. It can take up to 15 years for the first symptoms to appear.

The Pap smear, which consists in taking with a cotton bud a sample of the cells of the area, it’s indicated for women ever since the third year that they started having sexual intercourse. This simple test can detect abnormal cells in the cervix, and the vaccine may help prevent the infection that turns normal cells into abnormal cells.

Vaccine HPV

Vaccine against HPV

The prevention of the vaccine covers around 75% of the cases of cervical cancer, and there are already some data as to the efficiency in adolescent to 45 year old women. The vaccine prepares against a wide range of viruses, but it doesn’t mean that the regular visits to the gynecologist can be stopped. The regular medical check-ups are vital. Three doses are needed for a proper vaccination.

This vaccine has been put through a lot of exhaustive scientific and sanitary tests and has overcome by far all the obstacles that have appeared on its way. A thorough study has been carried out for over a decade and it’s been authorized in more than 100 countries worldwide. 50 million of doses have been handed out around the world.

Among other medical authorities, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recognizes the security that this vaccine may provide and its tolerance, which is very high. Only in some cases local reactions (on the arm) or a slight temperature has been recorded.

Premature detection measures must be developed through an annual Pap smear and vaccination in the established age range, in order to maximize the prevention effects of the cervical cancer.

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Authors and contributors

 Laura Gil Aliaga
Laura Gil Aliaga
BSc, MSc
Bachelor's Degree in Biology & Biochemistry from the Miguel Hernández University of Elche (UMH) and the University of Alicante (UA). Master's Degree in Biology of Human Assisted Reproduction. Embryologist at clinic UR Vistahermosa (Alicante, Spain). More information about Laura Gil Aliaga
Adapted into english by:
 Sandra Fernández
Sandra Fernández
Fertility Counselor
Bachelor of Arts in Translation and Interpreting (English, Spanish, Catalan, German) from the University of Valencia (UV) and Heriot-Watt University, Riccarton Campus (Edinburgh, UK). Postgraduate Course in Legal Translation from the University of Valencia. Specialist in Medical Translation, with several years of experience in the field of Assisted Reproduction. More information about Sandra Fernández

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