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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    I'm worried about becoming infected with HPV again after being treated for abnormal cervical cells. What can I do to prevent this?

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  • Associate Professor Stephen WeinsteinDirector of Pathology, Gold Coast Hospital Campus View Profile

    This very question raises an important point. It illustrates that cervical cancer is one of the few human cancers that are proven to be caused by an infectious organism, in this case a virus. Cancers, as you know, can be caused by many things, like smoking causes lung cancer, sunburn can cause skin cancer, etc. But cervical cancer is caused by a virus called HPV, human papilloma virus, that infects the surface cells of the cervix, and it causes them to multiply in an uncontrolled manner, and in effect the cells become immortal, which is what is the cellular-level definition of cancer.

    HPV is spread by genital contact. So the mechanisms of catching human papilloma virus are the same before or after treatment, of course. It depends on sexual exposure. But, in either situation, it can be prevented by vaccination. For example, an Australian researcher, Ian Frazer, has come up with a vaccination against the papilloma virus, and that's called Gardasil. If vaccination was not practiced or available, then Pap smear screening is the way to make sure that the virus, even if you don't prevent getting infected with it, at least it can't exercise its nasty effects.

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