Does the human papilloma virus (HPV) cause cancer?

Diana K. Blythe, MD

Some strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV) cause cancer and some strains cause genital warts. Hopefully, you will not have to experience either of these.

The cancer causing strains of HPV are found in about 95% of cervical cancer and cause the death of too many women each year. In men, the risk of penile and anal cancers are greatly increased. Please practice safe sex and protect yourself.

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is most commonly passed by sexual contact. Many people have HPV and do not even know it. Because this virus is known to cause more than 95 percent of cases of cervical cancer, a great deal of research effort and money have been invested to create HPV vaccines.

There is evidence that chronic HPV infection may also be associated with cancers other than cervical cancer. A great deal of clinical and laboratory research data points to chronic HPV infection as the primary cause of cancers of the anus, vulva, vagina, penis, and the oropharynx (the structures within the mouth and throat).
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most ubiquitous of all cancer-causing viral infections. It has a particular affinity for cells on the skin and in mucous membranes where they affect the cell's genetic instructions and can make them behave badly. Most of the time HPV is booted out by the body's immune system, but sometimes the cells transform to become benign, precancerous or cancerous tumors.

Certain HPV types have been implicated in a growing list of cancers that affect both men and women, most notably cervical cancer. If estimations are correct that 80% of men and women have been exposed to HPV at some point in their lifetime, then HPV infection has enormous public health implications that cannot be ignored.

There are 100 types of HPV and more than 30 are considered sexually transmitted infections. HPV can cause a range of diseases affecting the throat, larynx, tonsils, mouth, penis, vagina, cervix, and anus. Some types are more likely to cause cancer (high-risk) and some never will (low-risk). Low-risk HPV types are responsible for external skin growths such as common, flat or plantar warts on hands and feet and venereal warts (condyloma) in or on the vagina, penis, and anus.

High-risk HPV types are more inclined to cause cancer, but not always and not necessarily right away. Seemingly harmless infections acquired during adolescence and young adulthood can linger for decades, assaulting cells repeatedly over time, sometimes developing into cancer, sometimes not. There are 13 high-risk HPV types that cause cervical cancer, and HPV types 16 and 18 cause 70% of cervical cancer.

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Infection with certain types of human papillomaviruses (HPV) is the major cause of cervical cancer. Almost all women will have an HPV infection at some point, but very few will develop cervical cancer. The immune system of most women will usually suppress or eliminate HPVs. Only HPV infections that are persistent (do not go away over many years) can lead to cervical cancer. In 2009, more than 11,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with this type of cancer and about 4,000 will die from it. Cervical cancer strikes nearly half a million women each year worldwide, claiming more than a quarter of a million lives. Studies have found that HPV infection is also a strong risk factor for oropharyngeal cancer (cancer that forms in tissues of the oropharynx, which is the middle part of the throat and includes the soft palate, the base of the tongue, and the tonsils). Studies also suggest that HPVs may play a role in cancers of the anus, vulva, vagina, and penis.

This answer is based on source information from the National Cancer Institute.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.