8 misconceptions about cervical cancer and papillomaviruses

What is the human papillomavirus? Who can be infected by this virus and how to protect yourself from it? On the occasion of the 46ᵉ congress of the French Society of Colposcopy and Cervico-Vaginal Pathology which was held in mid-January 2023 in Paris, Sciences et Avenir takes stock of the received ideas and current recommendations to protect against this virus responsible for cervical cancer.

We are wrongly talking about the human papillomavirus, when there are about 200 types, classified according to their pathogenicity (ability to cause disease). Human papillomaviruses, therefore, abbreviated as HPV, are a family of viruses that can infect the skin and mucous membranes. These viruses are very contagious and are transmitted by skin contact, that is to say from skin to skin, including during sexual intercourse. There are several types of HPV: those with low carcinogenic risks -responsible for the development of genital or plantar warts- and those with high carcinogenic risks, the most common and dangerous of which are HPV-16 and HPV-18 (which can cause lesions pre -cancerous and the development of several types of cancer including those of the cervix). There are many misconceptions about human papillomaviruses and cervical cancer. On the occasion of the 46ᵉ congress of the French Society of Colposcopy and Cervico-Vaginal Pathology (SFCPCV) which was held in mid-January 2023 in Paris, Science and Future separate the true from the false.

Myth #1: HPVs only infect heterosexual women

FAKE. All people who have had at least one sexual relationship can contract the human papillomavirus: 80% of those who are sexually active will be confronted with an HPV infection, half of them between the ages of 15 and 24. In the majority of cases, the virus will be recognized and eliminated by the immune system. Only 5% to 10% of people will have a persistent infection.

Myth #2: Only men can transmit the virus to women

FAKE. HPV is one of the Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). These are highly contagious viruses, and infection can occur through skin contact during sex. As a result, all people carrying HPV can transmit the virus to their partner(s) during sexual relations (male-male, female-female, male-female relationship).[…]

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