Most HPV infections will go away on their own. However, in some people, the immune system doesn’t clear the infection and over many years, the infection can lead to various cancers.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common virus—one that is easily spread through skin-to-skin sexual contact. This can make some people feel worried or embarrassed, but having HPV is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s common and difficult to completely protect against.
Most times a person cannot tell when they have HPV—there are often no symptoms to tell you that you have it.
In most cases, the immune system will clear HPV from the body within one to two years. It’s only when an infection lasts for a long period of time that it can lead to certain types of cancer.
There are more than 100 types of HPV that affect different parts of the body. About 40 of these types can affect the genitals, mouth or throat.
There are two types of HPV: “low-risk” and “high-risk.”
- Low-risk HPV types are generally harmless, but may cause genital warts.
- High-risk HPV types can lead to various cancers. There are about 15 high-risk types that can cause cancer of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, anus and oropharynx (back of the throat).
It’s important to remember that if you have any type of HPV, including high-risk HPV, it does not mean you have or will get cancer. Your body will usually get rid of it on its own without causing any problems.
Every year in B.C. approximately:
- 6,000 women will develop high-risk pre-cancerous changes to the cervix.
- 200 women will get cervical cancer and 50 will die from it.
- 110 people will develop anal cancer and 20 will die from it.
- 5,500 people will develop genital warts.