6 Things to know about HPV

Talk to your doctor about prevention

What is HPV?

The Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common, highly contagious virus spread by skin-to-skin contact during genital, anal, or oral sex.

Did you know?

About 75% of sexually active Canadians will have at least one HPV infection in their lifetime.

Fast Facts

Men
In men, HPV can lead to cancer of the penis.
Warts caused by HPV can appear on the penis, scrotum, anus or thighs.

Women
HPV has been linked to cancer of the cervix, vulva, and vagina.
Warts caused by HPV can appear on the vulva, urethra, cervix, vagina, anus or thighs.
For women, the best defence against cervical cancer is to have regular Pap tests.

Both men and women
There are more than 100 types of HPV with at least 40 that infect the genital tract and 15 that may lead to cancer. In both women and men, HPV has been linked to cancer of the anus, and mouth and throat.

If you are sexually active, you are at risk.

The Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world today. There are more than 100 different types of HPV with at least 40 that cause genital warts and cancer. The HPV virus can infect anyone who has ever had a sexual encounter, even without penetration.

HPV doesn't play favourites.

Anyone who is sexually active is at risk for HPV. It doesn't matter if you are male or female, what your sexual preference is, or how old you are. If you are sexually active, you can get HPV. Make sure you're doing everything you can to reduce your risk of getting HPV.

HPV is highly contagious.

Approximately 75% of sexually active Canadians will have at least one HPV infection in their lifetime; with the highest rates of HPV infection occurring in young people aged 15 to 24. Many people who get HPV will not even realize it, since most types of HPV cause no visible signs or symptoms. There is no cure for the virus once you are infected.

HPV infections can lead to various conditions.

While most types of HPV cause no visual signs or symptoms, they can lead to certain problems in the future. These conditions include:

Genital warts
Genital warts are often the only visible sign that someone has an HPV infection. These are small growths that can appear on or inside the sex organs several weeks, months, or even years after sexual contact.

Cervical cancer
Cervical cancer, or cancer of the cervix, is almost exclusively caused by HPV. Some signs and symptoms of cervical cancer include abnormal vaginal bleeding, pain during sexual intercourse, and increased discharge from the vagina. Regular Pap tests are the best way to find abnormal cervical cells early and treat them before they develop into cervical cancer.

Anal cancer
Symptoms of anal cancer can include anal bleeding, difficulty passing stools, pain or lumps, itching or discharge. In the presence of signs and symptoms, an intra-anal examination should be performed.

Penile cancer
Generally, penile cancer affects the head or foreskin of the penis rather than the shaft of the penis. Growths can be raised, wart-like, or flat, and can be painful and inflamed.

Head and neck cancer
Some typical symptoms of head and neck (mouth and throat) cancers include a lump or a sore in the head and neck area that does not heal, a sore throat that does not go away, white or red patches in the mouth, difficulty swallowing, and a change or hoarseness in the voice. These cancers are linked to the spread of HPV by having oral sex with a person who is infected with the virus.

Vulvar and vaginal cancers
Often, there are no signs or symptoms for vulvar and vaginal cancers. If there are, they can appear as itching or burning that does not go away, pain in the pelvic area, abnormal vaginal bleeding, difficulty urinating, and/or painful intercourse.

 

You can protect yourself from HPV.

The fact that you can have the virus without any signs or symptoms makes it even more important to take steps to protect yourself. The HPV vaccination is up to 90% effective at preventing the HPV types responsible for most genital warts and HPV-related cancers.

Speak to your health care professional to see if you are the right candidate for HPV vaccination, to learn about the cost and availability in your province, or to discuss any concerns or questions you may have. HPV vaccination requires two or three injections in individuals younger than 15 and three injections in individuals 15 and older, which must be given by a health care professional.

The earlier the consequence of an HPV infection is found, the better chance there is of fighting it. Here are some ways to ensure early detection:

Pap test
For women, the best defence against cervical cancer is to have regular Pap tests. A Pap test will detect abnormal cells in your cervix that could lead to cervical cancer later in life. A woman should visit a health care professional to have a Pap test every few years or according to her province's guidelines.

HPV DNA test
The HPV DNA test is generally recommended for women over 30 whose Pap test results show specific abnormalities. The test detects the presence of HPV in the cells. If HPV is detected, your doctor will recommend further tests. The HPV DNA test is currently not available in all parts of Canada.

Health exam
Although the Pap test and HPV DNA test are only available for women, men can be examined by their doctor for genital warts caused by HPV and for signs of cancers of the penis, anus, and mouth and throat. Both men and women should visit a doctor for regular health exams if they think they are at risk of contracting HPV or any other sexually transmitted infection.

You can further reduce your risk of infection.

Total prevention is not easy, but here are some ways to reduce your risk of contracting HPV:

Limit your number of partners
Lifelong monogamy – having one long-term sexual partner – is an effective way to reduce your risk. Basically, the more sexual partners you have, the higher your risk of contracting HPV.

Use a condom
Using a condom is a good risk-reduction strategy and provides protection against other sexually transmitted infections as well.

Quit smoking
Smoking makes the body less able to fight off HPV infection and is a factor in the development of various cancers – and genital warts.

View Full Website