Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection. Unfortunately, it’s also the most common cause of cervical cancer. While most HPV infections are not harmful, certain types of HPV are much more dangerous. Learn more about the link between HPV and cervical cancer, including with options for treatment and prevention.
What Types of HPV Cause Cancer?
HPV is closely linked with cervical cancer. In fact, two types (HPV-16 and HPV-18) are responsible for 70% of precancerous cervical lesions and cervical cancers caused by HPV. These and other high-risk strains of HPV cause cancer when they persist in the body.
Chronic HPV infections like these can develop into cancer over time. For a woman with an average immune system, it takes about 15 to 20 years for cervical cancer to develop. However, women with weakened immune systems could develop cervical cancer in 5 to 10 years.
You can get cervical cancer without HPV, but it’s extremely unlikely. In fact, HPV is found in about 99% of all cervical cancers.
Preventing Cervical Cancer
The HPV vaccine, which is FDA-approved for adults through age 45, protects against most of the cancer-causing HPV virus types. The vaccine cannot protect against any HPV types to which you’ve already been exposed, and it can’t clear an existing infection. However, it could boost your protection against strains which you have not encountered.
Because it usually takes years to develop, cervical cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer. It’s important to get regular Pap tests and HPV tests. In many cases, health care providers can detect and remove precancerous cells before they have a chance to develop into cervical cancer. These routine screenings are recommended for both unvaccinated and vaccinated women.
You can also practice safer sex to reduce your risk of becoming infected with HPV. Since the virus is spread through skin-to-skin contact, using condoms can lower your risk of infection. Having fewer sex partners also reduces your risk.
Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
If cervical cancer does develop from an infection, it typically results in one or more of the following HPV cervical cancer signs and symptoms:
- Irregular vaginal bleeding
- Pain during sex
- Vaginal discharge
- Increased urinary frequency
- Pain during urination
Although HPV can cause cancer, there are steps you can take to help protect yourself. Women who get cervical cancer or precancer from HPV have a number of treatment options. Talk to your doctor about scheduling regular Pap tests and HPV screenings or if you are experiencing any of the symptoms of cervical cancer.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer: World Health Organization, 2019.
- Cervical Cancer Overview: National Cervical Cancer Coalition, 2019.
- HPV and Cancer: National Cancer Institute, 2019.
- FDA approves expanded use of Gardasil 9 to include individuals 27 through 45 years old: U.S. Food & Drug Administration, 2018.