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Human papillomavirus (HPV)

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common family of viruses and the world’s most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). It is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact. HPV infects cells inside and outside of the body including surfaces of the skin, lining of the mouth, tongue, throat, tonsils, vagina, penis, cervix, and anus. Most people who get HPV won’t have any signs or symptoms and may unknowingly spread the disease.

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The human papillomavirus impacts not only the person who was diagnosed but those around them

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HPV and Cancers

  • Can stay asleep in a person’s body for up to 30 years
  • Treated by removing genital warts, treating pre-cancer or cancer
  • If you get HPV, and you also smoke cigarettes, this makes it much more likely that you will get cancer


*Human papillomavirus (HPV) Prevention and HPV Vaccines: Questions and Answers. Government of Canada.

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4 Out of 5

have had HPV at some point in their life

*Government of Canada. "Genital HPV Infection - Fact Sheet." Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 Mar. 2014.

"The most powerful statement we could say about HPV right now is that unlike most cancers, cervical cancer is detectable and preventable before it turns into full-blown cancer"

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Human papillomavirus (HPV) is an extremely common virus. At some point in our life most of us will catch the virus. The world over, HPV is the most widespread sexually transmitted virus; 80% (four out of five) of the world’s population will contract some type of the virus once [1]. If you catch HPV, in the majority of cases the body’s immune system will clear or get rid of the virus without the need for further treatment. In fact you may not even know that you had contracted the virus.

There are over 100 identified types of HPV; each different type has been assigned a number. HPV infects the skin and mucosa (any moist membranes such as the lining of the mouth and throat, the cervix and the anus). Different types affect different parts of the body causing lesions. The majority of HPV types infect the skin on external areas of the body including the hands and feet. For example, HPV types 1 and 2 cause verrucas on the feet [2].

Around 40 of the HPV types affect the genital areas of men and women, including the skin of the penis, vulva (area outside the vagina), anus, and the linings of the vagina, cervix, and rectum [3]. Around 20 of these types are thought to be associated with the development of cancer. The WHO International Association for Research on Cancer (IARC) identifies 13 of these types as oncogenic (cancer causing). This means there is direct evidence that they are associated with the development of cervical cancer and are considered high-risk [4]. These high risk types of HPV are: 16, 18, 31, 33, 35, 39, 45, 51, 52, 56, 58, 59, and 68 [5]. A person infected with high-risk genital HPV will show no symptoms so they may never even know they have it.

Additionally there are nine HPV types that may also be associated with the development of cervical cancer these are types: 26, 53, 64, 65, 66, 67, 69, 70, 73, 82. However, currently there is not enough evidence to indicate that these types are high risk for cervical cancer [6].

The remaining genital HPV types have been designated low-risk as they do not cause cervical cancer but they can cause other problems such as genital warts.


  1. Koutsky L. 1997. Epidemiology of genital human papillomavirus infection. The American Journal of Medicine, 102 (5A), 3-8.
  2. Lacey CJ et al., 2006. Chapter 4: Burden and management of non-cancerous HPV-related conditions: HPV-6/11 disease. Vaccine, 24 (3), S3/35-41.
  3. Giuliano AR et al., 2008. Epidemiology of human papillomavirus infection in men, cancers other than cervical and benign conditions. Vaccine, 26 (10), K17-28.
  4. Walboomers JMM et al.,1999 Human papillomavirus is a necessary cause of invasive cancer worldwide. Journal of Pathology, 189 (1), 12–19.
  5. Szarewski A. 2012. Cervarix: a bivalent vaccine against HPV types 16 and 18, with cross-protection against other high-risk HPV types. Expert Review Vaccines 11(6), 645 – 657.
  6. Bouvard et al., 2009. A review of human carcinogens – Part B: biological agents. Lancet Oncology 10, 321 - 322.


"Human Papillomavirus (HPV)." Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust. N.p., 19 Aug. 2013. Web. 02 Mar. 2015.

Here are some of the facts on HPV

  • HPV stands for Human papillomavirus.

  • It is a common virus with over 100 different types; more than 40 of which are sexually transmitted.

  • It causes 99.4% of cervical cancer cases and 100% of genital warts cases.

  • 80% of sexually active people will contract genital HPV in their lifetime and there are usually no signs or symptoms. 

  • It is a virus contracted through skin-to-skin contact, is very infectious, and is spread via sexual activity.

  • The definition of sexual activity: The minute you go below the belt.

  • Condoms reduce the spread of HPV but because they do not fully cover all the skin around the genitals, they do not fully protect you.

  • It only takes one infected sexual partner in an entire lifetime to contract this virus.

  • There are two vaccines available on the market, Gardasil (targeted at preventing the two most common types of HPV associated with genital and anal cancers [HPV 16 and 18], and those associated with genital and anal warts [HPV 6 and 11]) and Cervarix (targeted at preventing the two main HPVs that cause cervical cancer [HPV 16 and 18])

  • From the age of 21, with or without an HPV test, a woman should get a Pap test. It is the only way to see abnormalities that can lead to cervical cancer later in life.

  • Statistics Canada estimates that every year 1,502 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and 581 will die from it, while another 220 will die from cancer of the vulva or vagina.


"HPV and Cervical Cancer." Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust. N.p., 19 Aug. 2013. Web. 02 Mar. 2015.

Each year in Canada, approximately 1,408 new cervical cancer cases are diagnosed. Cervical is the 13th cause of female cancer in Canada, and the 3rd most common female cancer for women aged between 15 to 44 years old [1]. Cervical cancer is caused by a very common virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). Anyone who is sexually active can contract HPV through contact with someone who already has the virus. Most people are infected with HPV at some point in their lives but may never know they have been infected. Like other viral infections such as a cold, HPV is usually cleared by the body's immune system without the need for other treatment. We do not know why a small percentage of people do not clear the infection, which can remain 'dormant' (inactive) in their bodies sometimes for many years [2] [3].

There are around 13 high-risk types of HPV that are responsible for almost all cervical cancers [4]. Within the high-risk group, types 16 and 18 are the most prevalent and responsible for 70% of cervical cancers [5]. HPV infection can cause changes to the cells of the cervix creating abnormalities. Once these abnormalities become severe they can develop into cancer which is why cervical screening and HPV vaccination are important in helping to prevent cervical cancer.

There are two HPV vaccines which provide protection against the two high risk types of HPV (types 16 and 18) that cause 70% of all cervical cancers. One of the vaccines is also designed to provide protection against genital warts which are caused by low risk types of HPV. Low risk types of HPV do not cause cervical cancer.

Research indicates that the HPV vaccine could prevent two thirds of cervical cancers in women under the age of 30 by 2025 but only if uptake of the HPV vaccination is at 80% [6].


  1. Bruni L, Barrionuevo-Rosas L, Albero G, Aldea M, Serrano B, Valencia S, Brotons M, Mena M, Cosano R, Muñoz J, Bosch FX, de Sanjosé S, Castellsagué X. ICO Information Centre on HPV and Cancer (HPV Information Centre). Human Papillomavirus and Related Diseases in Canada. Summary Report 2014-12-18. 
  2. Muñoz N, et al., 2009. Persistence of HPV infection and risk of high-grade cervical intraepithelial neoplasia in a cohort of Colombian women. British Journal of Cancer 100, 1184–1190.
  3. Moscicki, AB, et al., 1998. The natural history of human papillomavirus infection as measured by repeat DNA testing in adolescent and young women. Journal of Pediatr 132, 277-284.
  4. Li N et al., 2011. Human papillomavirus type distribution in 30,848 invasive cervical cancers worldwide: variation by geographical region, histological type and year of publication. International Journal of Cancer 128, 927–935.
  5. Bosch, F.X., et al., Epidemiology and natural history of human papillomavirus infections and type-specific implications in cervical neoplasia. Vaccine, 2008. 26 (10), K1-16.
  6. Cuzick J, Castanon A, and Sasieni P. 2010. Predicted impact of vaccination against human papillomavirus 16/18 on cancer incidence and cervical abnormalities in women aged 20–29 in the UK. British Journal of Cancer 102, 933-939.

* image from WebMD  

"The HPV Vaccines and Preventing Cervical Cancer." Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust. N.p., 19 Aug. 2013. Web. 02 Mar. 2015.

The HPV vaccination will help reduce the number of cases of cervical cancer and the number of women who have to be treated for abnormal cervical screening results. Girls who are offered the HPV vaccine have an opportunity to protect themselves from two high risk types of HPV that cause at least 70% of all cervical cancers. It is essential that all girls who are vaccinated also attend cervical screening when invited because the vaccine does not protect against all HPV types. If you are not eligible for the vaccination the best protection against cervical cancer is to continue going for regular cervical screenings. The combination of HPV vaccination and cervical screening can help reduce cervical cancer incidence in Canada.

Human papillomavirus immunization programs by province/territory (September 2010):


Routine Schedule (1,2 and 6 months)

Date of Implementation of Routine Program

Catch-up Programs (Date of Implementation)

British Columbia

Grade 6

September 2008

Grade 9 (2008-2011)


Grade 5

September 2008

Grade 9 (2009-2012)


Grade 6

September 2008

Grade 7 (2008-2009)


Grade 6

September 2008



Grade 8

September 2007



Grade 4 (doses 1 and 2), in 3rd year of secondary school (dose 3)

September 2008

- 9 to 13 years of age (High Risk of HPV Infections)

- 14-17 years of age

- 9 to 17 years of age in First Nations communities

- 3rd year of secondary school (2008-2013)


Grade 7

September 2008

Grade 8 (2008-2009)

Nova Scotia

Grade 7

September 2007

- Grade 2010 (2009-2010 only)

- Grade 8 (2010-2011 only)

Prince Edward Island

Grade 6

September 2007

Grade 9 (2009-2010 only)

Newfoundland and Labrador

Grade 6

September 2007

Grade 9 (2008-2010)

Northwest Territories

Grade 4

September 2009

- Grades 11 and 12 (2009-2010)

- Grades 10 and 11 (2010-2011)

- Grades 9 and 10 (2011-2012)

- Grade 9 (2012-2014)


Grade 6

September 2009

Grades 7 and 8


Grade 6

March 2010



Advisory Committee Statement (ACS) and National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI). (2012). Update on Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccines. Canada Communicable Disease Report. Vol. 38


"HPV Vaccination Summary." Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust. N.p., 19 Aug. 2013. Web. 02 Mar. 2015.