Addressing Patient Concerns Regarding Positive HPV Test Results
In the face of a positive result for human papillomavirus (HPV), patients often find themselves grappling with a plethora of anxiety-inducing questions. Providing them with accurate information is essential to allay their fears, stressed Jean-Louis Mergui, MD, who serves as the president of the International Federation for Colposcopy. During a recent press conference at the Congress of the French Society of Colposcopy and Cervico-Vaginal Pathology, he emphasized the importance of responding adequately to patients’ concerns to ease their worries.
The Link Between Papillomavirus and Cancer
When individuals receive a positive HPV test result, their initial reaction is often to seek answers on the internet. This can lead to heightened anxiety as they come across information about “high-risk HPV, which has the potential to cause cancer,” as noted by Mergui. However, according to the findings of the ATHENA study, the likelihood of women having a severe CIN3 lesion or higher on the cervix when testing positive for HPV is approximately 7%. This means that the vast majority, around 93% of patients, do not have a severe cervical lesion. As a result, not all patients undergo colposcopy, underscoring the importance of providing reassurance to individuals receiving positive HPV test results.
While there is a risk of developing a cervical lesion if the papillomavirus persists, statistics show that on average, high-risk HPV is naturally cleared from the body within 1-2 years. Monitoring and further exploration are recommended for individuals with high-risk HPV to ensure timely intervention if necessary. In cases where a patient aged between 30 and 65 years tests positive for HPV, cytology is conducted to detect any lesions. Colposcopy is only advised in instances of abnormal smear results, such as ASC-US. For patients without any lesions, a follow-up HPV test is scheduled a year later to assess virus persistence.
It is crucial to note that individuals who have undergone treatment for a cervical lesion face a fivefold higher risk of developing invasive cervical, vaginal, or vulvar cancer. These patients require regular monitoring every 3 years for the rest of their lives to detect any potential concerns early on.
Understanding the Timing of Infection
Patients often wonder about the timing of their HPV infection, prompting questions like, “When did I contract this virus?” Mergui highlights that HPV infection is widespread and commonly occurs between the ages of 15 and 30. A significant portion of individuals within this age range gets infected with high-risk HPV, with most infections occurring within the first 5 years of sexual activity. Fortunately, HPV typically clears up within a year, offering reassurance to those concerned about the duration of the infection.
While navigating the uncertainties surrounding a positive HPV test result can be daunting, providing accurate information and guidance can help alleviate patients’ anxieties. Empowering individuals with knowledge about the implications of HPV and the importance of regular monitoring can aid in promoting their overall well-being and peace of mind.