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Some HPV (human papillomavirus) infections can go away on their own. In most people, the body’s immune system fights HPV infections and clears them from the body. 

Sometimes HPV infections can last longer. A longer infection with a “high-risk” HPV type can turn into cancer. 

It can take 3 to 7 years for abnormal changes in the cells on the cervix to become cancer. The purpose of cervical cancer screening is to find these changes while they are still easily treated. Women with “low-grade” changes can be tested over time to see if the cells go back to normal. Women with “high-grade” changes can get treatment to have the cells removed from the cervix.

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Published: October 2020

Last reviewed: October 2020

Copyright 2021 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. All rights reserved. Read copyright and permissions information.

This information is designed as an educational aid for the public. It offers current information and opinions related to women's health. It is not intended as a statement of the standard of care. It does not explain all of the proper treatments or methods of care. It is not a substitute for the advice of a physician. Read ACOG’s complete disclaimer.