Well, having had surgery yesterday for cervical cancer, I’ve ben doing quite a lot of reading on the subject and following new research developments rather closely. There’s some good info on the CDC, NIH, and American Social Health Association websites.
Everything I’ve read says that about 95% of cervical cancer is caused by the HPV virus, and that the virus is carried by anywhere from 50% to 80% of the sexually active population. So while promiscuity increases the odds that you will contract the virus, it’s quite possible to have had very few partners, or even only one, and still contract the virus. Most carriers are unaware that they are carriers, and will never show symptoms of any kind. I was not in a high-risk group for contracting HPV, as I don’t smoke (although why there is a correlation there, I have no idea, but it’s always listed as a major risk factor), and I haven’t had piles of sexual partners (none at all in the past year, in fact, which amazed my gynecologist). So EVERYONE who has ever been sexually active should definitely have regular Paps; the HPV virus can remain dormant in the body for many years before wreaking its havoc.
There are only a few of the 100+ strains of HPV that are connected with cervical cancer, and they are different strains than the ones that cause visible genital warts. So your partner can appear to be perfectly fine, and even be unaware of being a virus carrier, and give you the type that will cause cancer.
I am still left with some questions about all this, though: Does anyone understand the biological aspects of how immunity to HPV would work, via vaccine or otherwise? Is it like chickenpox, where once you contract it, you generally are immune for life, but still carry the virus (and can end up with related diseases, like shingles, down the line)? Can someone who has contracted one strain of HPV still be immunized against the others? Does the vaccine use live or dead virus? Does anyone even know the answers to these questions yet?
I’m no medical person, so this is all very confusing. I am rather linguistically inclined, though, and hate how most patient-focused medical literature is “dumbed down,” so any links to journal articles, etc. would be greatly appreciated.