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The Link Between HPV and Cancer

What are the signs, symptoms, and health consequences of HPV infection?

Though most HPV infections go away on their own, some HPV infections persist. HPV infections that don’t go away can cause changes in the cells in the infected area, which can lead to genital warts or cancer. There is no way to know which people will develop cancer or other health problems.

Doctor speaking with patient

Genital warts usually appear as a small bump or groups of bumps in the genital area. They can be small or large, raised or flat, or clustered like a small piece of cauliflower. A healthcare provider can usually diagnose warts by looking at the genital area.

Cervical cancer usually does not have symptoms until it is quite advanced and hard to treat. For this reason, it is important for women to get regular screening for cervical cancer. Screening tests can find early signs of disease so that problems can be treated before they ever turn into cancer.

Other cancers caused by HPV might not have signs or symptoms until they are advanced and hard to treat. These include cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and cancers of the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (oropharynx).

How common is HPV Cancer?

Every year, over 27,000 women and men are affected by a cancer caused by HPV— that's a new case every 20 minutes.

Persistent HPV infection can cause cervical and other cancers including:

Cancer often takes years, even decades, to develop after a person gets infected with HPV. The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the types of HPV that can cause cancers.

There is no way to know which people who have HPV infections will develop cancer or other diseases. People with weakened immune systems (including individuals with HIV/AIDS) may be less able to fight off HPV and more likely to develop health problems from it.

Most of these cancers could be prevented by HPV vaccination at ages 11-12.

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