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Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

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General Information

What is Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?

  • The human papillomaviruses (HPV) are a group of viruses that cause genital warts, cervical abnormalities and cervical, vaginal and anal cancers.
  • There are many different types of HPV, some of which cause warts and some of which cause cervical abnormalities, cervical cancer and other cancers.

What is the link between HPV and cervical cancer?

  • Cervical cancer affects about 1,350 women and causes 390 deaths each year in Canada.
  • HPV infection is the cause of cervical cancer. Several types of HPV, including types 16 and 18, cause cervical cancer.
  • Most women who have been exposed to HPV do not develop cancer of the cervix, even if the HPV is a cancer-causing type. HPV infection usually goes away on its own. However, in some women, the infection can remain and slowly lead to cancer if it is not found and treated.

What is the link between HPV and genital warts?

Genital warts are caused mainly by HPV types 6 and 11.

How does someone get HPV?

  • HPV can be passed from one person to another through direct skin contact that occurs during sexual activity.
  • People with HPV infection may not know they have this infection because they can have no symptoms. However, they can pass the infection to their sexual partners.
  • Depending on the type of HPV, their partners then have a chance of developing warts, cervical abnormalities that cause cancer, or other genital cancers.
  • A large number of people are exposed to HPV viruses over their lifetimes. About 75% of sexually active Canadian men and women have been infected with HPV at some point in their lives.
  • Condoms offer some protection, but the virus may be present on skin that is not covered by the condom.

Are there treatment options for HPV?

  • HPV usually goes away on its own.
  • Treatment is available for genital warts.
  • Pap tests will detect early abnormalities in the cervix caused by HPV. Treatment of these abnormalities can prevent cervical cancer.

How can HPV and HPV-related problems be prevented?

  • Abstinence is the best way to prevent HPV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
  • Condoms will significantly decrease the risk of getting most STDs and will help lower the chances of getting HPV infection.
  • To prevent cervical cancer, make sure to have a regular Pap test.
  • There is a vaccine available called Gardasil™ that can protect against four types of HPV infections – types 6, 11, 16 and 18. These types cause 70% of cervical cancers and 90% of genital warts.


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