HPV is a virus that can be passed from person to person via skin to skin contact. There are more than 100 types of HPV, with about 30 of these types that infect the genital area of men and women.
HPV is a very common virus. Some research suggests that at least three out of four people who have sex will get a genital HPV infection at some point during their lives.
The cervix is covered by a thin layer of tissue made up of cells. If HPV is present, it may enter these cells. Infected cells may become abnormal or damaged and begin to grow differently. The changes in these cells may progress to what is known as precancerous. In most women the immune system destroys the virus before it causes cancer, but in some instances HPV is not destroyed and does not go away.
A Pap test, sometimes called cervical cytology screening, can detect early signs of abnormal cell changes. Women should be tested periodically and consult their gynecologist if they are experiencing any new symptoms. Symptoms can include lower back pain, pain during urination, during sexual intercourse, and bleeding outside of menstruation.