The Link Between HPV and Cancer
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.
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).
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:
- Cervical cancer: The most common HPV cancer. Almost all cervical cancer is caused by HPV.
- Vulvar cancer: About 69% are linked to HPV.
- Vaginal cancer: About 75% are linked to HPV.
- Penile cancer: About 63% are linked to HPV.
- Anal cancer: About 91% are linked to HPV.
- Cancer of the back of the throat: About 72% are linked to HPV. [Note: Many of these cancers may be related to tobacco and alcohol use]
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.
- HPV-Associated Cancers
- Basic Information About Gynecologic Cancers
- Genital HPV Infection - Fact Sheet
- HPV and Oropharyngeal Cancer - Fact Sheet
- Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines [2 pages]
- Human Papillomaviruses and Cancer: Questions and Answers (National Cancer Institute)
- Inside Knowledge Campaign
- What is anal cancer? (American Cancer Society)
- Head and neck cancer (National Cancer Institute)
- HPV and Men - Fact Sheet
- Cervical Cancer Screening with the HPV Test and the Pap Test in Women Ages 30 and Older [24 pages]
- Page last reviewed: September 30, 2015
- Page last updated: September 30, 2015
- Content source: