HPV stands for Human Papilloma Virus (Papilloma Virus Humain or PVH in French, but very few people use the French term).
The Papilloma viruses are a family of viruses with a common tropism (a specificity to infect): the skin and the mucous membranes. More than a hundred of such viruses have been identified, around 40 of which can infect the genitals.
Amongst these, some are more “carcinogenic” than others:
- those known as High risk viruses (HR)or as potentially oncogenic viruses (for example, HPV 16 & 18). They are responsible for the occurrence of genital cancers, the most common of which is cervical cancer. However most of the time (in 80 to 90% of cases) the infection is temporary and spontaneously regresses because infected peoples’ immune systems clear the body of the virus (referred to as viral clearance = negative test results). Nevertheless, for various reasons the virus can persist*. This may lead to the development of precancerous lesions (sorts of small flat warts on the uterine cervix). If in turn these lesions remain, they can develop into cancer after a relatively long period of about 10 to 15 or even 20 years.
* One factor that can influence the persistence of the virus is the level of tobacco consumption. Smoking reduces the immune system’s defenses. Therefore by eliminating smoking the probability of virus persistence is reduced.
- the other non-high risk viruses are called low risk viruses such as HPV 6 & 11. They cause the development of external wartsalso known as exophytic condyloma (known as “rooster-comb”, venereal vegetation). These lesions are always benign but they can be aesthetically embarrassing, easily irritable and also very contagious.