Questions from Readers: HPV Duration

Cindy asks:  
I was recently diagnosed with low risk HPV. I had no symptoms other than irregular paps off/on for 15 yrs. Will this go away on its own? Will this change my life forever? Will I definitely have to worry about warts and will my husband get it too?

We cannot predict what an HPV infection will do. That’s why it’s so important to follow the screening recommendations of your healthcare provider.  The majority of HPV infections do clear on their own. So your chances are good that your infection will clear.  HPV is a virus that is transmitted pretty rapidly after contact, so chances are that your husband has it too. This need not ruin your life.  Be thankful that you caught it early and know that if you continue to follow up with your doctor that life should be fine.  Best wishes to you.

Christy asks:  
I’m 27 and I just found out I have HPV 2 weeks ago and I am very scared. My question is, knowing that I have HPV now, will I have HPV forever?

HPV sounds scary but here are several facts to make you feel less anxious.  Most women will have an HPV infection during their lifetime, but very, very few get cervical cancer.  Most HPV infections clear up on their own and don’t cause any problems.  Researchers now think that when the HPV clears up it stays dormant in your body unless your immune system is later compromised in some way, in which case the HPV may become active again.  When the HPV is dormant it appears that it is not passed on to a partner. Your best protection is to stay healthy by exercising, eating well, not smoking and seeing your doctor regularly.  I hope that helps.

Rosa asks:  
I was recently diagnosed with HPV. The test was done in March and the results came back in April. I do not have warts or any other symptoms. How long will it take for warts to develop and for the infection to go away?

Your HPV diagnosis does not necessarily mean that you will have warts. There are 100 different types of HPV, some of which infect the genital area. Some of those cause genital warts, some cause cervical cancer. An HPV infection also doesn’t usually show any symptoms.  In most women, it clears up on its own.  But if it doesn’t clear up, it can cause problems like warts or cervical dysplasia or even cervical cancer.  So what do you do?  Make sure that you see your doctor regularly and follow his or her recommendations for follow up and treatment. With early detection and follow up of recommendations, an HPV infection doesn’t need to be so scary.

Cass asks:  
If your body fights the HPV infection and goes away does it really go away or does it just lie dormant? Can it come back or will it go away forever?

Scientists now think that the HPV infection that clears up on its own remains dormant in your body.  It can stay dormant or it can come back again.  Why it comes back isn’t exactly known. But it does seem to be affected by your immune system. A strong immune system may help to keep it dormant.

Jessica asks:  
How fast does cervical cancer spread?

Generally, compared to other cancers, cervical cancer is slowly growing and unlikely to spread when it is in its early stages.

Misty asks:  
Is there any way of knowing how long I’ve had HPV?

Once you get infected with HPV, the virus likely stays in your body either as an active infection or lays dormant and undetectable after the infection is cleared by your immune system. The HPV does not go away and may remain present in the cervical cells for years. Because it can last so long in your body before any cell changes occur, it is difficult to know who transmitted the HPV to you or how long you’ve had it. So the answer to your question, is ‘no.’

Confused asks:  
I was just told I have low grade HPV with precancerous cells. I have been with my husband for 11 years and I have gotten annual paps since then. Why is it showing up now??

HPV can lay dormant in your body for a very long time. We don’t fully understand the dormancy of HPV, but researchers now think that it is likely that once you have the HPV virus that it never goes away but is either active or lays dormant in your body. Your high risk HPV could have been lying dormant for all the time you’ve been married. There is no way to know. So don’t blame your husband.  The reason it is showing up now is also unknown, but it is likely that your immune system for some reason didn’t fight it off. One of the biggest contributors to HPV infection is smoking. So if you smoke, do think about quitting.

Ali asks: 
If my body will clear the virus off in time, will all types of HPV go away, or are certain types more persistent than others?

Some types of HPV tend to be more persistent than others.  In particular, some of the cancer-causing types are less likely to be cleared naturally.  That is why you still need to get regular screening as recommended by your provider.  This is also one of the reasons why the vaccines are recommended, to prevent at least 2 of the types that tend to stick around, HPV types 16 and 18.

Josie asks:
I was told I had HPV when I was 19, had cancerous cells, it was removed and was doing fine. A couple years later I had no signs of HPV at all. My Doc said that my immune system could fight it off. I am 25 now, and have had no symptoms since. Does that mean I do not have HP any longer?

HPV can lay dormant in your body for a long time. We really do not know how long it can be there without showing any symptoms. So it’s not possible to tell whether your HPV infection is no totally gone or if it was just fought and suppressed by your immune system. The best protection you can provide yourself is to follow steps to keep yourself healthy:  eat well, exercise, don’t smoke and limit your sexual partners.  Be well.

Lisa asks:  
I have been married for 20 years and just gave birth to my fifth child 6 weeks ago. I went for my Pap and was called back and told I have HPV and pre-cancerous cells. I have had a normal Pap for years. Can it be dormant for that long?

You ask a question that is on the mind of a lot of women upon hearing that they have unexpected results from their Pap test.  In most women infected with HPV, the cells in the cervix return to normal after the body’s immune system has eliminated the HPV infection of forced it into latency without the woman ever having any signs or symptoms of the HPV.  However, some HPV infections do not go away and may remain present in the cervical cells for year, without causing any abnormalities most of the time. Most HPV infections clear up within 2 years, some sooner, some longer. Long-standing infection can lead to changes in the cells that can progress to cancer if not treated. It is these cell changes that a Pap test can detect. Make sure that you follow up with your doctor to get the treatment recommended so that your pre-cancer cells don’t turn into cancer.  Your actions can prevent cervical cancer.

Daize asks:  
Is it possible to have HPV, have it clear up then become active again? I have had multiple procedures done for everything from mild dysplasia to CIN 111 to VAIN. I had normal paps for 10 years in between the first abnormal pap (that was before HPV was known about).

The answer to your question is ‘yes’ it is possible for HPV to become active again.  But it doesn’t happen in every case.  HPV has a tendency to lay dormant for years.  It can then reoccur. In some women, it may reoccur many times and cause the changes you have described such as CIN or cervical intraepithelial neoplasia and VAIN or vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia.  In other women, it may not reoccur.  If you think you are having problems, please contact your doctor and ask about these concerns.

Debra asks:  
I am trying to find out how long high risk HPV can stay dormant?  If you had cervical dysplasia 14 years ago (removed it with a LEEP procedure) and have not had signs of HPV or abnormal Pap smears for the next 14 years, could you have the same HPV strain reoccur and cause cervical cancer?

There is no definitive answer to your question as to how long high risk HPV infections can remain dormant. It varies greatly from person to person. High risk HPV infections can remain dormant for many years. Removing the abnormal cells in your cervix with a LEEP or Cone procedure will not eliminate HPV. It is thought, though, that after such a procedure, your body will mount an effective immune response to assist in clearing the virus. That is why these procedures are so effective. But this does not happen in all women and it is impossible, at this time, to predict who will have a persistent HPV infection which may lead to a recurrence of abnormal cells. That is why you need to talk about your concerns with your provider and continue to take good care of yourself and get regular checkups and Pap tests, especially if you have had a procedure for abnormal cervical cells.

Spotlight

This special section in Self Magazine features a GYN surgeon and 34-year-old (at the time of diagnosis) patient.

Awareness

This year’s National Race to End Women’s Cancer aims to spread the word that all women should Love Your Ladyparts! Check out site’s new features and join the MOVEMENT.

Research

The Foundation’s research award winners will be notified in January. Thank you to all who sent in their applications.

Education

The next Gynecologic Cancer Survivors Course will be February 7-8 in Anchorage, Alaska. For more information on educational events and courses, click here.