HPV (human papilloma virus) Infection and Dysplasia

Last Modified: March 12, 2006

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Question

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

I was recently told by my gynecologist that I have HPV, and that the HPV has caused me to develop moderate dysplasia of the cervix. I recently had a colposcopy performed and a LEEP procedure. I just have a few questions about HPV.

1) I have been told that HPV cannot be cured, yet I have read on numerous occasions that the infections often go away on their own with the aid of a person's immune system. So, once infected with the virus, will you always have HPV? When these studies said that often the infections will go away, does that mean the genital warts and dysplasia will go away, or does that actually mean the HPV virus itself?

2) Since I am in a monogamous relationship with a person who has HPV as well, will he "reinfect" me and cause me to have dysplasia again if we do not use condoms? If we do always use condoms, would I be right to say I will not develop dysplasia again?

Answer

Christina S. Chu, MD, Assistant Professor of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, responds:

In most cases of young women (20's to early 30's) with HPV and CIN1 (mild dysplasia), the condition regresses within two years of diagnosis (virus is cleared up by the immune system). However, there is controversy as to whether you actually "clear" an infection, or if your body just simply suppresses it. If you have a strain of HPV that causes genital warts, it is possible for these to reappear later on as a reactivation of this strain that you already have. Shingles are an example of this, as they are the reactivation of the herpes zoster virus (aka chicken pox). Some people get chicken pox as a child; the spots heal and go away, but the virus is really stored, inactive and dormant, in the body's nerves. Then, decades later, some people develop shingles from that same herpes zoster virus. It isn't a new infection, but rather a reactivation of that same old infection that was hiding for years in the nerve cells. Another example is herpes and cold sores; even when someone does not have a cold sore, they still have the virus in the body, but it is suppressed.

We think that once you have one HPV strain (and clear it), you are unlikely to get the same strain again. This means that you should not be able to be reinfected by the same strain from your partner.

I have a great article about HPV for your reference: HPV and Cervical Cancer.