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HPV and cancer

Most men and women who are sexually active will have an HPV infection at some point in their life. In most cases, high-risk HPV infections come and go over within a couple of years. But sometimes the HPV infection does not go away and this can lead to cancer.

HPV and cervical cancer

A high-risk HPV infection can lead to changes in the cells of the cervix, which can develop into cervical cancer if they are not found early (through a Pap test) and treated. HPV infection causes almost all cervical cancers.

HPV and other cancers

In Canada, about two-thirds of HPV-related cancers happen in areas other than the cervix.
HPV infection is related to:

  • 80% to 90% of anal cancers
  • 40% of vaginal and vulvar cancers
  • 40% to 50% of penile cancers
  • 25% to 35% of mouth and throat cancers

Most of these cancers are related to high-risk HPV types 16 and 18.

High-risk HPV

Infection with high-risk HPV can cause cells to change or become abnormal. These changes can lead to cancer. HPV16 and HPV18 are the most common high-risk types and cause 70% of cervical cancers.

Infection with high-risk HPV is also linked to cancers of the penis, anus, vulva, vagina and mouth and throat.

If you have a high-risk HPV infection that does not go away, precancerous cervical changes can develop. Regular cervical screening with a Pap test is important because it can find these changes. Precancerous cervical changes and cervical cancer can be treated.

Low-risk HPV

Infection with low-risk HPV doesn’t cause precancerous changes and doesn’t increase your risk of cancer. But low-risk types of HPV can cause genital warts.

The 2 low-risk types of HPV that are responsible for 90% of genital warts are HPV6 and HPV11. Genital warts caused by low-risk types of HPV can appear weeks or months after skin-to-skin sexual contact with an infected person. There are treatments for genital warts. Talk to your health care professional to discuss your treatment options.

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