HPV or human papillomavirus has 100+ strains, a few of which are considered "high risk" meaning they can cause cervical cancer. HPV is sexually transmitted, and because it is a virus, it is not curable. However, like flu virus, there is a vaccine to protect young women (and men now) against the dangerous strains of HPV. Not all HPV infections will turn into cervical cancer. In many cases, your body will take care of the virus and you will not require treatment for abnormal pap tests or cancer. However, your body may not treat all of the strains, and some of them may mutate and cause changes in the cervical cells which may lead to cancer down the road. Most abnormal cervical tests take 5+ years before they would be considered as full blown cancer requiring hysterectomy, etc. However, there are some cases that move faster and therefore, it is important to follow up with regular screenings, colposcopy, or other treatment as recommended by your provider. Further, there are other types of cancer that are not caused by HPV and that is why all women must be screened, not just women with muliple partners.
Gardisil and Cervarix are vaccines that are available to prevent cervical cancer. The vaccines are recommended for women aged 14-27. It must be given in three separate doses and most insurance does cover this vaccine, so if you fall in this age group, check with your insurance and your provider and get vaccinated! Gardisil also prevents certain types of HPV that cause genital warts as well, so if this vaccine is right for you, you may be "killing two birds with one stone!"
So....don't skip out on those yearly exams or vaccines!