This blog will give you regular, high-quality information about cancer. You'll also get to meet the info team and get updates on our projects. We hope you find it useful. And if there are any topics you'd like us to blog about, just let us know.
What does it mean if you’re diagnosed with an HPV-related cancer? In this blog, information development nurse Hilary answers some FAQs.
What is HPV? HPV stands for the human papilloma virus. It’s actually a family of viruses that affect different areas of the body in different ways. These viruses are very common and rarely cause any long-term damage to the body. However, a few viruses in the HPV family (called high-risk HPVs) have been linked to certain types of cancer.
How does HPV cause cancer?Our bodies are usually pretty efficient at getting rid of infections. But if, for some reason, a high-risk HPV stays in the body for a long time, it may cause damage to cells in the area that’s infected. Eventually, these abnormal cell changes may develop into cancer. High-risk HPV has been linked to cancer of the cervix, head and neck, anus, vulva, vagina and penis.
How does HPV spread?The virus is carried on the skin, particularly the mucous membranes inside the mouth, throat, genital area or anus.
It is passed on through close, skin-to-skin contact and spreads easily from person to person during any type of sexual contact. Using a condom or other barrier contraception may reduce the risk of infection with HPV, but it does not offer complete protection.
What difference does it make having an HPV-related cancer?For many people, having an HPV-related cancer makes no difference to the treatment they have. However, with ongoing research we will hopefully start to understand more about HPV-related cancers. This may help doctors predict:
How did I get HPV?There is no way to know how you got HPV. Some infections that are passed on during sex can be traced to one sexual partner. But HPV is so common and easily spread, that it is not possible to know exactly how or when a person has caught it. It probably takes years, or even decades, for the virus to cause the damage to cells that develops into cancer. So, infection is likely to happen many years before cancer is diagnosed.
Unfortunately, there is sometimes stigma attached to sexually transmitted infections. It’s worth saying again: HPV is very common. Most people will have it at some point in their life but usually will not even know they have it.
Having an HPV-related cancer does not reveal who you have had sex with, or what type of sexual contact you have had. Even couples in a long-term relationship can be affected. HPV is not a sign that partners have had sex outside the relationship.
Are my partners at risk from HPV?If you are diagnosed with an HPV-related cancer, you may worry that a partner’s health has been affected by the virus too. This is very unlikely. Partners of people affected by HPV-related cancer rarely develop an HPV-related cancer themselves.
Partners should still take part in any screening offered to them, for example:
Where can I get more information?We have more about HPV and cancer and about different types of cancer. If you would like to talk to a nurse, call us on 0808 808 00 00.
To see what else Macmillan's cancer information team has been blogging about, please visit our blog home page! You can subscribe to receive our blogs by email or RSS too.
We're with you every step of the way
The Macmillan team is here to help. Our cancer support specialists can answer your questions, offer support, or simply listen if you need a chat. Call us free on 0808 808 00 00.
Comments? Feel free to add them below (you need to be logged in).
Keep in touch Follow Macmillan’s cancer information team on Twitter @mac_cancerinfo
Safe payments by:
If you have any questions about Macmillan, or would like to talk to someone about cancer, we have a team of experts
who can help.
© Macmillan Cancer Support
© Macmillan Cancer Support, registered charity in England and Wales (261017), Scotland (SC039907) and the Isle of Man
(604). Also operating in Northern Ireland. A company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales company
number 2400969. Isle of Man company number 4694F. Registered office: 89 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7UQ. VAT no: