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Diseases caused by HPV

Asymptomatic Infections

  • HPV infection usually has no symptoms.11
  • Most people will never know they have HPV because they have no symptoms.11
  • In about 90 % of people, HPV infections will be cleared within 2 years.2
  • Infections may have no symptoms but the virus can still be transmitted.6
  • Once a HPV virion invades a cell, an active infection occurs and the virus can be transmitted.6
  • Sometimes HPV infections are not cleared, several months to years may elapse before lesions develop and can be clinically detected.6

Pre-cancerous Lesions

  • In the case of cervical lesions pap-screening is used to identify early lesions.8
  • These are known as SIL (Squamous-intra-epithelial lesions) or CIN (cervical intra-epithelial neoplasia).8
  • Depending on the extent of the lesion they are classified by the histologist as High grade (CIN 2 and 3 or worse) or Low grade (CIN 1 and early CIN 2).8
  • LSIL (low grade SIL) can resolve on their own and the tests are generally repeated 6 to 12 months later to see if the lesion has persisted or resolved.8
  • HSIL (high grade SIL) is a precursor lesion of invasive cervical cancer, it needs to be treated to prevent progression to cancers.8

Genital Warts

  • These are lesions primarily caused by types 6 and 11.8
  • Although they do not tend to become cancerous they are very unattractive, causing discomfort, odour, distress and irritation.2, 6, 8
  • As many as two thirds of people who have sexual contact with a partner with genital warts may develop warts themselves. These warts may occur as early as 3 months after sexual contact.6

What do genital warts look like?

Genital warts are usually flesh-coloured growths that are caused by certain types of HPV. The types of HPV that cause genital warts (HPV types 6 and 11) are different from the types that can cause cervical cancer. Even after seeing pictures of genital warts, you may not be able to recognize them. That’s because genital warts don’t always look the same. Genital warts can be raised or flat, small or large, alone or in clusters. Not to mention that some genital warts can grow inside a woman’s vagina or on the cervix, making them hard to see.11, 28

How do you get genital warts?

Genital contact with a person infected with genital warts makes you susceptible (intercourse is not necessary). About 2 out of 3 people who have sexual contact with a person who has genital warts will also get them. 6, 9, 10

Unlike cervical cancer, genital warts are not life threatening. But they can be life altering and embarrassing. Even after treatment, genital warts can come back. The recurrence rate can be as high as 25 %.6, 41, 42

Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis (RRP)

What does Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis (RRP) look like?

  • When types 6 and 11 cause wart type lesions in the respiratory tract this is known as Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis (RRP).11, 15
  • Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis are warts growing in the breathing tubes (trachea and bronchi) and lungs11, 15.
  • As with genital warts it is very difficult to treat and have distressing effects on the quality of life of the sufferer.11, 15
  • RRP occurs most commonly, in babies, born to mothers who are infected with HPV. These babies generally present with breathing problem and a hoarse voice and commonly have several operations in an attempt to clear their airways before their first year of life.11, 15, 29, 30
  • 7 in 1000 births in women with a history of genital warts resulted in RRP in children.11, 15, 29
  • RRP is often recurrent and children may require several treatments annually.11, 15, 29, 30
  • Repeated treatment of recurrences can lead to scarring and irreversible damage to the vocal cords.11, 15, 31


  • Similarly to cervical cancer HPV 16 and 18, as well as some other types, can cause precancerous and eventually cancerous lesions in other areas.2, 8, 9, 11, 15
  • Primary targets for HPV infection are the stratified squamous epithelial cells of the skin, mouth, upper airways, vagina, cervix, anal canal2, 8, 9, 11, 15
  • Other targets are the columnar epithelial cells of the endo-cervix, lungs, and prostate.2, 8, 9, 11, 15
  • As a result, HPV can cause cancer of the cervix, vagina, vulva, anus, penis, neck, throat, tonsil and base of the tongue.2, 8, 9, 11, 15
  • Pap smears provide a good screening tool for early identification of abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix. This has led to a decline in the number of cervical cancer cases in many countries.
  • There are, unfortunately, no routine screening programmes for other HPV related cancers such as anal, penile, head and neck cancers.1, 2, 8, 9, 11, 15

What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix (the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina) and is a serious condition. Unlike other cancers, cervical cancer is not passed down through family genes. Cervical cancer is caused by certain types of a virus—Human Papillomavirus or HPV. A study has found that HPV was present in 99 % of the biopsies of invasive cervical cancer.15

Cervical cancer - It’s not too early to think about it

About half of all females diagnosed with cervical cancer are between the ages of 35 and 55. Many of these women were most likely exposed to cervical cancer-causing HPV types during their teens and twenties, though women remain at risk throughout their lifetime. For most women who have HPV, the virus will go away on its own. But for some who don’t clear the virus, cervical cancer can develop.11, 29, 30