Skip to contentSkip to navigation

Human papillomavirus (HPV): Transmission, symptoms and screening

What is HPV?

The HPV family includes more than 200 types of related viruses. Many are sexually transmissible, and these are divided into two groups:

  • High-risk HPV types are well known to be responsible for cervical cancer, but can also be linked to various other cancers (cancer of the mouth, penis, anus, vagina and vulva). They include 14 types, the best-known of which are types 16 and 18.
  • Low-risk HPV types are very rarely associated with cancer, but can cause warts on the genitals, anus, mouth and throat.

How is HPV transmitted?

In the case of sexual transmission, the virus is spread by direct or indirect contact of the skin or a mucous membrane with the genitals of an infected person, even if that person has no symptoms.

HPV infections are very common: the vast majority of sexually active people will be infected with either high- or low-risk HPV during their lifetime.

What are the symptoms of HPV?

When symptoms occur, genital HPV infections lead to condylomas:

  • Soft or hard genital warts that are pink, flesh-coloured, white, brown or grey. They may resemble ordinary warts, or look like a cauliflower or rooster’s crest.
  • In women, they are found on the vulva, cervix, vagina and anus.
  • In men, on or under the foreskin, at the entrance to the urethra, or on the penis or anus.

This being said, most infections are asymptomatic and disappear on their own within a few months. However, infection with high-risk HPV can sometimes persist for decades, causing precancerous lesions that can develop into cancer if not detected and properly treated. Note that the vast majority of high-risk HPV infections never develop into cancer.

The surest way to prevent HPV from developing into cancer is a screening test for high-risk HPV. This helps to identify individuals who need preventive follow-up.

How to get tested?

HPV testing with cytology triage

Cervical sample:

  • Used for HPV testing and cytology;
  • Performed with a small cytobrush;
  • Since cells have already been taken from the cervix, cytology can be performed on this sample;
  • This means there is no need to collect another sample if high-risk HPV is detected.

Service offered in selected Biron service centres.

HPV stand-alone test

Vaginal swab:

  • Used for HPV testing only;
  • Performed with a swab;
  • If HPV testing is positive on a vaginal swab, a new cervical swab is required for a cytology;
  • The cost of this cytology follow-up at Biron is approximately $60.

Service offered in most Biron service centres.

It is important to understand that if a HPV result from a vaginal swab is positive, cytology (examination of the cervical cells) should be carried out to check for pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions.

Hence, an initial cervical swab has an advantage over a vaginal swab.

Learn more about this Biron's screening tests (HPV test and cytology)

You have no test requisition ?

If you don't have a test requistion for your HPV test, Biron's health professionals can prescribe one for you by booking an appointment for cervical cancer screening.

What are the treatments for human papilloma virus (HPV) infections?

No treatment exists for the human papillomavirus (HPV). In most cases, the immune system clears up the infection on its own within a few months. Nevertheless, treatments are available to eliminate condylomas (cryotherapy, prescription creams).

To treat precancerous lesions, several methods are available, ranging from cryosurgery to laser treatment, loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) and surgical removal. Although these treatments get rid of pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions, they do not eliminate the virus and the possibility of a future recurrence, even without new exposure to the virus.

Vaccination provides adequate protection against infection by the main types of high-risk HPV. Using a condom reduces the risk of contracting HPV, but does not offer total protection, as the virus can infect unprotected parts of the body.

Need more information?
For more information, do not hesitate to contact Biron’s customer service at 1 833 590-2712.