Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of more than 100 viral infections that spread through sexual contact. Most types do not cause any further health problems, but long lasting forms may lead to certain reproductive cancers. It is unclear if HPV is a risk factor for ovarian cancer specifically.

Cancer develops when cells in the body grow and divide uncontrollably. It usually begins in a small section of the body and spreads to other areas as time goes on.

It is unclear how prevalent HPV is, as most people with the infection do not realize that they have it. Research suggests that more than 80% of sexually active people will have HPV at some point in their lives.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV does not usually last for longer than 2 years. However, if it remains in the body for many years, it can cause further health conditions, including cancer in the reproductive tract. Around 70% of all vaginal and vulvar cancers result from persisting HPV infections.

This article examines whether or not HPV can cause ovarian cancer. It also looks at HPV’s relationship with cervical cancer, what the risk factors are, and when to contact a doctor.

a collage of a woman with ovarian cancer and a microscopic image of the HPVShare on Pinterest
Design by MNT; Photography by Hispanolistic/Getty Images & Nephron, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ovarian cancer is a form of gynecological cancer. It is the fifth most common cause of death in women across the globe. It often goes without a diagnosis, as people may not have any obvious symptoms and may not notice a mass until the later stages.

Because of this, the person may not receive treatment until later on, by which time the cancer will likely already have spread to other parts of the body.

Healthcare professionals believe that ovarian cancer starts at the ends of the fallopian tubes and develops into the ovaries as it grows.

There are three main types of cells in the ovaries where cancer can begin. These are the:

  • epithelial cells, which are cells on the outer lining of the ovaries
  • germ cells, which are cells that form eggs
  • stromal cells, which are hormone-releasing cells that connect the different ovarian structures

Currently, there is no substantial evidence that demonstrates an association between HPV and ovarian cancer.

Cervical cancer is another type of gynecological cancer. According to one recent article, this is the fourth most common type of cancer in women worldwide. As with ovarian cancer, people are often unaware that they have cervical cancer until the later stages, at which point it can be more difficult to treat.

Cervical cancer develops in the cells that line the cervix, which is the lower section of the womb. There are two main parts to the cervix. These are the endocervix, which is the inner section of the cervix, and the exocervix, which is the outer section. Cervical cancer usually begins in the area where these two sections join.

More than 90% of cervical cancer cases result from HPV infection, according to public health experts. The article above explains that out of the 130 types of HPV that experts currently know about, HPV 16 and HPV 18 are the most likely strains to cause cervical cancer.

The article also states that more than 500,000 women around the world receive a cervical cancer diagnosis each year. The CDC says that this includes around 12,000 women in the United States.

In the U.S., African American and Hispanic women and those in areas with fewer resources have significantly higher mortality rates. This is likely due to an uneven distribution of healthcare.

Cervical cancer may present with visible lesions. However, there are not usually any symptoms or visible tumors during the early stages. This can make it difficult to identify and diagnose without screening.

According to the CDC, women aged 21–65 years should attend regular screenings for cervical cancer. However, although this may reduce the chance of cervical cancer developing or worsening, it does not eliminate the risk.

Research suggests that most sexually active people are likely to have HPV at some point during their lives.

The virus spreads through skin-to-skin contact from:

  • sexual intercourse
  • oral sex
  • hand-to-genital contact

Some risk factors for HPV include:

  • having multiple sexual partners
  • using only oral birth control
  • smoking
  • having other genital infections
  • having herpes simplex virus
  • having HIV

Despite having links with other gynecological cancers, HPV may not increase the likelihood of developing ovarian cancer.

Some known risk factors for ovarian cancer include:

  • having a family history of ovarian cancer
  • having a family history of breast cancer
  • being postmenopausal
  • smoking
  • never being pregnant

The CDC recommends getting vaccinated at the age of 11 or 12 years — or as early as 9 years up to the age of 26 years — to lower the risk of developing health problems, such as cancer, from HPV.

Adults aged 27–45 years who were not previously vaccinated may also choose to do so based on a doctor’s determination of their risk of new HPV infections and potential benefits.

HPV is common, and it usually goes away by itself. However, if the virus persists, it can cause genital warts, cervical pre-cancer, and cervical cancer. A doctor cannot treat the virus directly, but they can treat any health problems that result from the infection.

Regardless of the cause, ovarian cancer is severe, and people often do not know that they have it until the later stages. This is because it may not cause any symptoms until the later stages.

It is important that a person contacts a doctor if they are concerned that they may have ovarian cancer.

HPV is a group of infections that spread through skin-to-skin contact among sexually active people. The virus is common and usually goes away on its own. However, if it does not, it can cause further health complications, including genital warts, cervical pre-cancer, and cervical cancer.

Current research suggests an unlikelihood of HPV infections causing ovarian cancer. The most common cancer to develop from HPV is cervical cancer.

People can reduce their risk of developing cervical cancer by getting vaccinated. Vaccination is available for people aged 9–26 years, and doctors may recommend it to adults up to the age of 45 years. The HPV vaccine can help prevent new HPV infections, but it cannot treat existing ones.

A person should talk with a doctor about when to receive the HPV vaccine.

There is currently no significant evidence to suggest a relationship between HPV and the development of ovarian cancer.