Human Papillomavirus (HPV) What is HPV and how does it relate to STIs?

  • The Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common, highly contagious virus that is spread by skin-to-skin contact (penetration is not required) or during genital, anal or oral sex. There are more than 100 different types of HPV with at least 40 that cause genital warts and cancer.

What are genital warts?

  • Genital warts are growths that look like small cauliflowers. They can be red or white, can sometimes cause itching or burning, and are found on or inside the sex organs. genital warts are treatable and care usually caused by low risk HPV (non-cancer causing types).

What type of cancer does HPV cause?

  • HPV has been linked to cancer of the cervix, vulva, and vagina, penis, anus, head and neck (mouth and throat).

How can I protect myself?

  • Condoms are a good way to protect yourself from many kinds of sexually transmitted infections. But when it comes to HPV, a condom does not provide full protection. You can still get HPV from infected skin not covered by the condom.
  • Regular Pap tests detects cell changes in the cervix before they have time to turn into cancer. In BC all patients with a cervix should start getting Pap screenings at age 25. For more information please visit BC Cancer Agency’s resource on Pap tests.
  • Vaccination is up to 90% effective at preventing the HPV types responsible for most genital warts and HPV-related cancers. There are three vaccines that are available and approved for use in Canada, each of which protects against certain HPV types.  In Canada, vaccination is approved for females aged 9-45 and males aged 9-26.

Should I have the HPV vaccine?

  • The vaccine is most effective if received before possible exposure to HPV through sexual contact.
  • The vaccine is approved for individuals between 9 – 45,  even if they are already sexually active, as they may not yet have HPV infection.
  • Even if someone has been previously diagnosed with HPV it is unlikely that they would be infected with all nine HPV types included in the vaccine, and could therefore still benefit from the vaccine.

Resources

For more detailed information on HPV Vaccination, you can visit the Immunize BC Website.

Have a question about sexual health?