Dr. Diane Harper - What is the association between HPV infection and cancer?

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HPV is a virus that has invaded our skin, and has done so without being detected by our body in most cases. It usually just sits there on the surface of the skin and does absolutely nothing until there is a particular signal that happens in a very small percentage of the infections that allows that infection to start changing the cells that it sits in.

When it changes those cells, those cells then become in a very slow manner usually, a precancer that can be detected. It takes approximately three years for an HPV infection to form one of this very small precancer lesions, and then it can take another five to ten years for those precancer lesions to grow big enough to actually become an invasive cancer.

Not all precancers do become invasive cancers. So it's important that you have your precancer treated because we can't tell which women will go on to develop invasive cancer and which women will just have this precancer sitting on their cervix for many years. In the family of Human Papillomavirus there are over a 100 different types of HPV.

Only 15 of those types can lead to Cervical Cancer, and you have to have an infection that lasts for at least three years for you to develop the precancerous lesions with those particular high risk HPV types.