Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common sexually transmitted virus. While most cases of HPV do not lead to cancer, certain types of HPV can cause cancers such as penile cancer and cervical cancer.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV can cause genital warts, cervical cancer, and other cancers of the reproductive system.

It appears to be responsible for 36,000 cancer cases in the U.S. each year.

This article will look at the different types of cancers that can develop as a result of HPV.

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Design by MNT; Photography by Alvaro Medina Jurado/Getty Images & Laboratory of Tumor Virus Biology, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

According to the CDC, HPV can cause several types of cancer. If the cancer is probably a result of HPV, healthcare professionals refer to it as an HPV-attributable cancer.

The following are HPV-attributable types of cancer:

Percentage of cancer cases that may be a result of HPVNumber of cancer cases per year that may be a result of HPV
Cervical cancer91%11,100 out of 12,293
Vaginal cancer75%700 out of 879
Vulvar cancer69%2,900 out of 4,282
Penile cancer63%900 out of 1,375
Anal cancer91%6,900 out of 7,531
Oropharyngeal (throat) cancer70%14,800 out of 20,838

HPV has more than 200 types, which doctors classify as low risk or high risk based on their potential to cause cancer.

Low risk HPV types can cause genital warts, while high risk types can cause precancerous changes and cancers in some parts of the body.

Planned Parenthood states that most HPV-attributable cancer cases develop as a result of HPV types 16 and 18.

It is important to note that while HPV is a major cause of several types of cancer, most HPV infections do not result in cancer.

The immune system clears up most HPV infections within 2 years, and these infections do not cause any long-term health problems.

However, some people may experience persistent infections with high risk HPV types, which can lead to the development of precancerous lesions and, over time, invasive cancer.

The development of HPV-attributable cancer is a complex process that involves multiple steps. Some of these steps are:

  • the persistence of the virus
  • the development of precancerous lesions
  • the progression to invasive cancer

The time it takes for cancer to develop after a person contracts HPV varies and can range from years to several decades.

However, this timeline can vary depending on certain factors, such as the type and strain of HPV and a person’s immune system response to the virus.

It is important that people undergo regular cancer screenings and take other preventive measures to detect and treat precancerous lesions before they develop into cancer.

It is not possible to know who will develop cancer after contracting HPV.

While most people with HPV will not develop cancer, some may develop precancerous conditions. If people do not receive treatment, these conditions can lead to cancer.

Factors that can increase the risk of developing cancer, such as cervical cancer, include:

  • a weakened immune system
  • smoking
  • the presence of certain high risk types of HPV

However, there is no way to predict with certainty who will or will not develop cancer after contracting HPV.

This is why it is important to get vaccinated, undergo regular screenings, and use barrier methods, such as condoms, during sex to reduce the risk of HPV and related cancers.

Cervical cancer affects the cervix — the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. HPV is responsible for more than 9 out of 10 cases of cervical cancer.

In many cases, the immune system can clear the HPV infection naturally, but in some cases, the virus can persist and cause precancerous changes to the cervix.

Over time, if a person does not receive treatment, these changes can develop into cervical cancer.

Regular cervical cancer screenings can help detect precancerous changes early and prevent the progression to invasive cervical cancer.

The HPV vaccine can also help prevent people from contracting the types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer.

Prevention of HPV-attributable cancers involves a combination of vaccination and screening.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) recommends that people receive the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12. However, people up to age 45 can receive the vaccine.

The vaccine is highly effective in preventing the types of HPV that cause most cancers.


Screening guidelines for HPV-related cancers vary depending on the type of cancer. Screening aims to check for signs of precancerous cell changes before they develop into cancer.

The NCI notes that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved screening tests for cervical cancer only. Cervical screening is an option for anyone who has a cervix. Cervical cancer screening involves performing an HPV test and a Pap smear.

An HPV test checks the cells in the cervix for high risk strains of HPV. A Pap smear checks for precancerous changes in cervical cells.

There are no FDA-approved screening tests for:

However, anal Pap smears are available for those who have a higher risk of anal HPV, including men who have sex with men and those who have HIV.

Dentists may be able to check for signs of oropharyngeal cancer during routine dental checkups.

HPV is a common STI that can cause different types of cancer, including cervical, anal, penile, vulvar, vaginal, and oropharyngeal cancers.

There are more than 200 types of HPV. Healthcare professionals classify some types as low risk and others as high risk based on their potential to cause cancer.

The body’s immune system clears up most HPV infections, and these infections do not result in cancer. However, some high risk HPV types can persist. If a person does not receive treatment, this can lead to precancerous changes and invasive cancer.

Regular cancer screenings and the HPV vaccine are effective tools for reducing the risk of HPV-related cancers.