How does HPV cause cervical cancer?

Icon Health Screening / 28 Nov, 2019

What is HPV?What is HPV?

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus. It is estimated that eight out of 10 women will get HPV in their lifetime. HPV can affect anyone who is sexually active, both women and men. Any kind of intimate genital contact can spread the virus.

For most the virus will clear on its own, but when it does not, certain cancers and diseases can develop. There is no way to know who will or will not clear the virus.

Some types of HPV can cause cervical cancer, vulvar cancer, vaginal cancer, penile cancer and anal cancer. Other types can cause genital warts. At least four types of HPV cause the most cases of HPV-related diseases in women and men.

Types of HPVTypes of HPV

High risk group16,18,31,33,45,52,58

  • Causes >75% of cervical cancer and >50% of vaginal and vulvar cancer

Low risk group – 6,11

  • Causes >90% of anogenital warts

Risk factors for HPV infectionRisk factors for HPV infection

While it is very common to be affected by HPV within your lifetime, risk factors include:

  • Lifetime number of sex partners
  • Early age of first sexual intercourse
  • Partner’s sexual behavior
  • Smoking
  • Oral contraceptive use

What is the role of HPV in the development of cervical cancer?HPV and cervical cancer

The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that connects the womb and the vagina. HPV infection is the main cause for cervical cancer.

Progression of cervical cancer can take up to 10 years, with precancerous stages often occurring prior to the development of cancer.

Symptoms of cervical cancerSymptoms of cervical cancer

There are usually no symptoms of cervical cancer in the early stages. When advanced, symptoms may include:

  • Slight bleeding between periods
  • Bleeding after sexual intercourse
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • Pain and discomfort
  • Lower backache
  • Unexplained loss of weight
  • Pale face and nails (anaemia)

Treatment of cervical cancerTreatment of cervical cancer

There are a number of treatment options depending on the type and stage of your cervical cancer, and your own needs.

They may include:

  • Surgery
  • Laser and cold coagulation treatment
  • Chemotherapy – involves the use of anti-cancer drugs. They can be given orally (by mouth) or injected into the body.
  • Radiation therapy – uses high-energy particles (such as x-rays) to destroy cancer cells.

Prevention of cervical cancerPrevention of cervical cancer

  1. HPV Vaccination – Can be taken by both males and females
  2. Screening is recommended, done by pap smear testing in females


For a full list of references, click here.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Retrieved on 21 November 2019 from
  2. Ministry of Health Singapore. (2019). HPV Prevention: HPV Vaccine (Singapore). Retrieved on 21 November 2019 from


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