HPV’s Link to Other Cancers

In addition to cervical cancer, HPV (human papillomavirus) is associated with several other types of cancer. High-risk HPV types, particularly HPV 16 and 18, are known to be linked to the development of various cancers.

Source: cdc.gov

It’s important to note that while HPV is a significant risk factor for these cancers, not everyone with an HPV infection will develop cancer. Most HPV infections are transient and resolve on their own. However, persistent infections with high-risk HPV types increase the risk of cancer development over time.

Here are some other types of cancer and conditions that can be caused by HPV:

In the oral area

Oropharyngeal Cancer

  • HPV infection, especially with HPV 16, is a significant risk factor for oropharyngeal cancers, which include cancers of the tonsils, base of the tongue, and throat.
  • This cancer forms in tissues of the oropharynx (the middle part of the throat, behind the mouth). Most oropharyngeal cancer (70%) is caused by HPV.
Source: Standford University

What is Oropharyngeal Cancer?

The oropharynx is the part of the throat that lies just behind the oral cavity and in the back of the mouth. The tonsil, tongue-base and soft palate are the most well-known areas of this region of the throat, which can only be visualized using special endoscopes or mirrors.


These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by oropharyngeal cancer or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • A sore throat that does not go away.
  • Trouble swallowing.
  • Trouble opening the mouth fully.
  • Trouble moving the tongue.
  • Weight loss for no known reason.
  • Ear pain.
  • A lump in the back of the mouth, throat, or neck.
  • A white patch on the tongue or lining of the mouth that does not go away.
  • Coughing up blood.
Can thrush be mistaken for mouth cancer?

Red and white patches in the mouth can also be caused by a fungal infection called thrush. The white patches usually rub off, leaving a sore red patch underneath.

Yes, thrush (an infection caused by the Candida fungus) can sometimes be mistaken for mouth cancer, especially when it presents as red and white patches in the mouth. Thrush can lead to the development of white patches that may resemble lesions seen in oral cancer. However, there are key differences:

Thrush Characteristics:

  • Color: The white patches in thrush are usually caused by a buildup of fungal material and can be rubbed off, revealing a sore, red patch underneath.
  • Consistency: Thrush lesions are often creamy or cottage-cheese-like in texture.
  • Removability: The white patches in thrush are removable, unlike the potentially persistent white patches associated with some forms of oral cancer.

Oral Cancer Characteristics:

  • Persistence: Lesions associated with oral cancer may persist even after attempting to remove them.
  • Pain: Oral cancer lesions may be associated with pain.
  • Other Symptoms: Oral cancer can be accompanied by other symptoms such as unexplained weight loss, difficulty swallowing, or a persistent sore throat.

Laryngeal Papillomatosis

HPV, mainly types 6 and 11.

Proliferation of warts in the larynx, which can affect the voice and breathing.

Focal Epithelial Hyperplasia (Mouth)

Associated with the human papillomavirus (HPV), especially types 13 and 32.

Manifests as oral lesions, such as multiple small bumps in the mouth, tongue, and lips.

Oral Papillomas

HPV, with multiple types involved such as 6, 7, 11, 16, and 32.

Formation of benign growths in the mouth and surrounding areas.

In the genital and anal area

Anal Cancer

  • HPV is a major risk factor for anal cancer. Both men and women can be affected, especially those with persistent HPV infections.
  • Over 90% of anal cancer is caused by HPV. Both new cases and deaths from anal cancer are increasing.
  • Anal cancer symptoms are often similar to piles (haemorrhoids) and anal fissures, which are common and less serious conditions.

Symptoms of anal cancer can include:

  • bleeding from the bottom
  • itching and pain around the anus
  • small lumps around and inside the bottom
  • a discharge of mucus from the bottom
  • having problems controlling when you poo (bowel incontinence)
  • needing to poo often with looser, runnier poos
  • Anal cancer may have no symptoms at all, or they might be hard to spot.


Source: Manhattan Gastroenterology

Anal cancer is rare. Most people affected by HPV will not develop cancer.

You may be more likely to get anal cancer if you:

  • have anal sex
  • are over the age of 75
  • smoke
  • have had cervical or vaginal cancer
  • have a weakened immune system, such as from HIV or an organ transplant

International Anal Neoplasia Society’s consensus guidelines for anal cancer screening

Screening guidelines for anal cancer prevention have been developed by several organizations worldwide, The International Anal Neoplasia Society (IANS) is an organization committed to providing the highest quality evidence, recommendations, and standards of care for the prevention and early detection of anal cancer.

All squamous cell carcinomas of the anus (anal cancers) are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) and are preceded by high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions (HSIL),  which are screening-detectable precancerous lesions. Worldwide, nearly 30,500 new anal cancer cases occurred in 2020.

Although rare among the general population, anal cancer disproportionately affects several specific populations, including

  • people with HIV (PWH)
  • men who have sex with men (MSM)
  • solid organ transplant recipients (SOTR)
  • and women with a history of vulvar cancer or precancer.

The elevated anal cancer incidence among these and other high-risk groups warrants the development of risk-targeted anal cancer screening recommendations.

Screening tests for anal high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion (HSIL) and cancer are:

  • Anal cytology
  • hrHPV testing to triage ASC-US cytology
  • Cytology and hrHPV co-testing

A positive screening result can be further stratified with triage strategies including sending abnormal cytology specimens for hrHPV testing, or sending hrHPV positive specimens for cytology, though data were sparse for some of these test combinations. 

Penile Cancer

  • HPV infection, particularly with high-risk types, is associated with an increased risk of penile cancer in men.
  • Most penile cancers (63%) is caused by HPV. Penile cancer is a rare form of cancer that usually forms on or under the foreskin.

What does HPV penile cancer look like?

The first noticeable symptom of penile cancer is typically a lump, mass, or ulcer on the penis. It may look like a small, insignificant bump or a large, infected sore. In most cases, it’ll be located on the head or foreskin instead of on the shaft of the penis.

What can be mistaken for penile cancer?

Sometimes, growths can develop on the penis that are abnormal but are not cancers. (They are benign.) These lesions often look like warts or irritated patches of skin. Like penile cancer, they’re most often found on the glans or on the foreskin, but they can also occur along the shaft of the penis.

Is penile cancer completely curable?

Penile cancer has high cure rates when diagnosed early. We often successfully treat early-stage penile cancers with minimally invasive procedures. Later-stage penile cancers usually require more involved treatments. These treatments may include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy drugs.

How aggressive is penile cancer?

Some types of penile cancer have a better prognosis. Verrucous carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma are usually low grade, rarely spread to other parts of the body and have a good prognosis. Melanoma of the penis tends to grow and spread more quickly and is often at an advanced stage when diagnosed.

Vulvar Cancer

  • HPV is a risk factor for vulvar cancer, which affects the external female genitalia.
  • Most vulvar cancer (69%) is caused by HPV.

What are the symptoms of vulvar cancer?

The first noticeable signs of vulvar cancer are usually skin changes on your outer lips (labia majora) or inner lips (labia minora). But cancer can form anywhere on your vulva.

Vulvar cancer symptoms include:

  • Color changes, including skin that looks darker or lighter than usual, or patches of white skin.
  • Thickened or rough skin patches.
  • Growths, including lumps, wart-like bumps or ulcers that don’t heal.
  • Itching or burning that doesn’t improve.
  • Bleeding that’s unrelated to menstruation (periods).
  • Tenderness and pain, potentially during sex or when you’re peeing.

Types of vulvar cancer

Healthcare providers classify vulvar cancer based on the type of cells where the cancer starts. The most common types of vulvar cancer include:

  • Vulvar squamous cell carcinoma: Approximately 90% of vulvar cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. They develop in the cells on the surface of your skin.
  • Vulvar melanoma: Approximately 5% of vulvar cancers are melanomas. Melanomas develop rapidly and have a high risk of spreading to other areas of your body.

The remaining vulvar cancers are rare. They include:

  • Basal cell carcinoma.
  • Bartholin gland adenocarcinoma.
  • Paget disease of the vulva.
  • Sarcoma.
  • Verrucous carcinoma.

Vaginal Cancer

  • HPV infection is linked to an elevated risk of vaginal cancer, which involves the lining of the vagina.
  • Most vaginal cancer (75%) is caused by HPV.
Source: Mayo Clinic

How common is vaginal cancer?

About 1 in 100,000 women and people assigned female at birth is diagnosed with vaginal cancer, usually squamous cell carcinoma. Vaginal cancer accounts for only 1 to 2% of gynecological cancers.


Types of vaginal cancer

Vaginal cancer is divided into different types based on the type of cells affected. Vaginal cancer types include:

  • Vaginal squamous cell carcinoma
  • Vaginal adenocarcinoma
  • Vaginal melanoma
  • Vaginal sarcoma


Individuals should discuss their vaccination status and screening options with healthcare providers to determine the most appropriate preventive measures based on their age, gender, and individual health history.

Preventive measures, including HPV vaccination and regular screenings for early detection, are crucial for reducing the risk of HPV-related cancers. The HPV vaccine is effective in preventing infection with certain high-risk HPV types and has been shown to be particularly effective in reducing the incidence of cervical cancer and other HPV-related cancers.

Screening to detect cell changes caused by HPV

Screening tests are used to check for a disease or condition when there are no symptoms. The goal of screening is to find health problems early, when they may be easier to treat. Cervical cancer is currently the only HPV-caused cancer for which FDA-approved screening tests are available. Because there are not effective screening tests to find HPV-related cancers other than cervical cancer, it’s important to follow up with your health care provider about unusual symptoms. When caught early, many of these cancers can be successfully treated.

Cervical cancer screening: Cervical cancer screening is an important part of routine health care. Cervical cancer screening tests include the HPV test that checks cervical cells for high-risk HPV, the Pap smear that checks for cervical cell changes that can be caused by high-risk HPV, and the HPV/Pap cotest that checks for both high-risk HPV and cervical cell changes. Learn more about cervical cancer screening.

Anal cancer screening: Although there are no standard anal cancer screening tests for the general public, among populations at higher risk for anal HPV infection (men who have sex with men, women who have had cervical or vulvar cancer, people who are HIV positive, and organ transplant recipients), an anal Pap test (also called an anal Pap smear) is sometimes used to find precancerous anal lesions. A recent clinical trial found that treating precancerous anal lesions (called high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions, or HSIL) in people living with HIV cut their risk of developing anal cancer by more than half.

Oropharyngeal cancer screening: There are no standard screening tests for oropharyngeal cancer (also called throat cancer). The oral cancer exam that your dentist may conduct as part of a routine dental check-up checks the oral cavity, which is a different part in the mouth.

Penile cancer screening: There are no standard screening tests for penile cancer.

Vaginal cancer and vulvar cancer screening: There are no standard screening tests for vaginal or vulvar cancer. Although the Pap smear does not check for these cancers, vaginal cancer may sometimes be found on a Pap test or during a colposcopy.

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