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Human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer

Human papillomavirus (pap-uh-LOH-muh-veye-ruhss) (HPV) and cervical cancer are greater risks for women with HIV. The cervix is the opening of the uterus (womb) and connects the uterus to the vagina. Cervical cancer occurs when normal cells in the cervix change into cancer cells. Before the cells turn into cancer, abnormal cells develop on the cervix. If you have HIV and develop cervical cancer, you are said to have AIDS.

A Pap test finds abnormal cells on your cervix. If you have abnormal cells, your doctor may also want to give you an HPV test to see if HPV caused them. HPV is a group of viruses. Some types of HPV cause abnormal changes on the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer. HPV is very common, and you can get it through sexual contact with another person who has HPV. There is no treatment or cure for the HPV virus, but sometimes it goes away on its own. You can also prevent HPV infection by getting a vaccine early in life. Two vaccines (Cervarix and Gardasil) can protect girls and young women against the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers. The vaccines work best when given before a person's first sexual contact, when she could be exposed to HPV. Both vaccines are recommended for 11 and 12-year-old girls. But the vaccines also can be used in girls as young as 9 and in women through age 26 who did not get any or all of the shots when they were younger.

HIV-positive women are more likely to get HPV and the types of HPV that cause abnormal cells. If you have abnormal cells or HPV, it does not mean you'll get cervical cancer. Treating the cervix before the abnormal cells become cancerous can prevent future cancer. If you have abnormal cells, talk to your doctor about your treatment options.

There are ways to prevent cervical cancer:

  • Get a complete gynecologic exam. This includes a Pap test and pelvic exam. A Pap test will find abnormal cells that can lead to cervical cancer.
  • Get a Pap test two times during the first year after you're diagnosed with HIV. If results are normal, get a Pap test once a year.
  • If results are not normal, talk to your doctor about how often you should get a Pap test and the next steps to take.
  • Research is underway to see whether medicine to treat HIV also might lower the risk of developing cervical cancer.

There are also other steps to take to help prevent cervical cancer:

  • Don't smoke. Smoking can raise your risk of cervical cancer.
  • Be faithful. This means you and your partner only have sex with each other and no one else.
  • Use a condom every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Condoms don't always protect you from HPV. But they may reduce your risk of getting genital warts and cervical cancer.

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More information on Human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer

Read more from womenshealth.gov

Explore other publications and websites

  • HPV Common Infection, Common Reality - Many people are not aware of genital HPV because it usually has no symptoms and goes away on its own without causing any health problems. But some types of HPV can cause cervical cancer. This brochure provides an overview and facts on this common infection.
  • Human Papilloma Virus (Copyright © The Well Project) - This publication provides an overview of HPV, with special focus on HPV in women with HIV.
  • Human Papillomaviruses and Cancer - This fact sheet answers common questions about the many types of human papillomaviruses. It explains what they are, how they are spread, and how they are treated. This publication also discusses HPV's role as the major cause of cervical cancer and provides a list of resources for additional information.

Content last updated: July 01, 2011.

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