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HPV Facts

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
  • HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI)
  • HPV will affect an estimated 75% to 80% of males and females in their lifetime.
  • HPV can clear up on its own, but about 10%-20% will not clear the infection.
  • HPV could cause significant consequences: cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers in females. Other types can cause genital warts in both males and females. There’s no way to predict who will or won’t clear the virus.
  • There are more than 40 HPV types that can infect males and females. They can infect the genital area, the mouth, and the throat.
  • Studies show that the burden of HPV infection is concentrated in younger women.
  • Most people who become infected do not even know they have HPV.

Cervical cancer, which is caused by a sexually acquired infection with certain types of HPV,  is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer among females worldwide and affects over half a million women each year.

  • Worldwide, 529,828 women are diagnosed with this type of cancer every year
  • Worldwide, 275,128 women die from it every year.
  • In Canada, 1,419 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year
  • In Canada 544 die from the disease every year

How do you get HPV?

HPV can be passed on through any genital contact, such as vaginal or oral sex, or any genital to genital contact. The infection can be passed on even if the infected person does not show any signs or symptoms. The infected person may have had HPV for years without even knowing it, and be passing it along to others.

Signs & Symptoms of HPV

For most people, HPV can clear up naturally. For others, the infection will not clear and they may or may not develop symptoms or health problems from it. If they do show up, here are some signs & symptoms:

  • Genital warts
  • Warts in the throat (not common)
  • Cervical cancer and other, less common but serious cancers, including cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and oropharynx (back of throat including base of tongue and tonsils)

The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the types that can cause cancers. There is no way to know which people who get HPV will go on to develop cancer or other health problems.

How does HPV cause genital warts and cancer?

In many cases, the body will naturally fight off an HPV infection. But in some cases, the infection can cause normal cells in your body to become abnormal. These abnormal cells can cause visible changes, such as genital warts, or cancer which can take many years to develop.

How do I prevent cervical cancer?

The way to prevent cervical cancer is to get screened for changes in the cervix and to get the HPV vaccine.  Most countries do not screen for these changes therefore HPV vaccine is the only way to prevent cervical cancer in many places in the world.

Is there a test for HPV?

There are screening tests available for woman, as well as Pap tests which can look for abnormal cells, or cervical cancer. These tests are not available in all countries.

HPV and girls around the world
  • Many woman in developing countries cannot afford the full 2 or 3 doses of the HPV vaccine
  • More than 85% of the global burden of cervical cancer occurs in developing countries

Click here for more information and resources about HPV and the HPV vaccine