How does HPV relate to cancer?

Human Papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. While there are many different strains of HPV, according to the National Cancer Institute, only 16 are considered high-risk and account for approximately 5 percent of all cancers worldwide.

Virtually all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV, as are the majority of anal cancer cases. Strains of HPV have also been found to cause close to half of vaginal, vulvar and penile cancers. Most recently, HPV infections have been found to cause cancer of the oropharynx, which is the middle part of the throat including the soft palate, the base of the tongue and the tonsils. In the U.S., more than half of the cancers diagnosed in the oropharynx are linked to HPV.

Not everyone who develops a high-risk HPV infection will develop cancer.

Other factors that may increase the risk of developing cancer following a high-risk HPV infection include smoking, having a weakened immune system, having many children (for increased risk of cervical cancer), long-term oral contraceptive use (for increased risk of cervical cancer), poor oral hygiene (for increased risk of oropharyngeal cancer) and chronic inflammation.

There are currently two HPV vaccines approved by the FDA. Gardasil for the prevention of cervical, anal, vulvar and vaginal cancer, as well as precancerous lesions in these tissues and genital warts caused by HPV infection; and Cervarix for the prevention of cervical cancer and precancerous cervical lesions caused by HPV infection.

These vaccines have not been approved for prevention of penile or oropharyngeal cancer.

For more information, contact Courtney Britton, librarian at Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge, at (225) 927-2273,, or visit the Education Center at 550 Lobdell Ave., Baton Rouge.


Factsheet: HPV – NCI

This column is presented as a service by Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge, a United Way affiliate.