Human PapillomaVirus (HPV) and its link to Cervical Cancer

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HPV is short for Human Papillomavirus. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection and it has more than 200 types. HPV is usually harmless, though some types are more serious, and lead to cancer or genital warts.

Which HPV types are contagious (can be passed from one person to another)?

About 40 types of HPV affect the genital area (vulva, vagina, cervix, rectum, anus, penis, and scrotum) as well as the mouth and throat. These types can be transmitted through sexual contact or through blood, from one person to another.

Other types of HPV cause common warts on the hands and feet. These are not contagious. You will not get HPV by touching someone with such warts.

Genital HPV

Genital HPV infections are very common. Most people who have HPV are not aware that they do, as they may not see any symptoms and feel fine.

The severity of Genital HPV varies. Luckily, most genital HPV are not serious and can go away on their own. However, some more serious types can lead to genital warts and cancer.

These serious types are then grouped into two groups :

1. (Low-Risk HPV)

o   Two types of HPV (type 6 and type 11) will cause genital warts.

2. (High-risk HPV)

    • At least a dozen HPV types lead to cancer, but most cancer cases from HPV are caused by HPV type 16 or 18.
      • Although most cases of Cervical cancer will be from HPV infections, HPV infections can also cause cancer in your vulva, vagina, penis, anus, mouth, and throat

HPV and Cervical Cancer

As mentioned above, some HPV types can infect the cervix (the lower part of the womb), vagina, and vulva. Most of the time, this infection is harmless, as the body’s immune system can fight off the infection and clear the virus.
However, in serious cases, like when affected with a type of High-risk HPV, the infection cannot be overcome by the body’s immune system. The infection will then cause abnormal changes to the cells in the cervix. Over years, these cells may slowly develop into cervical cancer.

Signs and symptoms

Most of the time, there are no symptoms when you get HPV, as your body’s immune system defeats the virus before warts can appear.

When they do appear, they can appear on certain body parts, according to the type of HPV you have been infected with.

Below are the types of warts and their descriptions.

Genital warts

  • like small cauliflower-like bumps or tiny stem-like protrusions.
    • often painless, though they may itch or feel tender.
  • In women, they mostly appear on the vulva but can also appear near the anus, on the cervix or in the vagina.

In men, they appear on the penis, scrotum, or around the anus.

Common warts

  • appear as rough, raised bumps.
    • mostly only unsightly, though they can be painful or vulnerable to injury or bleeding. Usually, appear on the hands and fingers.

Plantar warts

  • hard, grainy growths that can cause discomfort. Usually appears on the heels or balls of the feet

Flat warts

  • flat-topped, slightly raised lesions

Can appear anywhere, but children usually get them on the face and men tend to get them in the beard area. Women tend to get them on the legs.

Signs of infection can appear anytime from weeks, to months to years after the person had been infected with the virus. You should see a doctor for advice if you or your child have warts that cause discomfort or embarrassment.

Diagnosis and Testing

Abnormality in the cervix, caused by HPV infection, can be detected by regular cervical cancer screening. An example of this is a PAP test. It can also be detected by the HPV DNA test, which is a type of genetic material test.


As of now, there is no treatment for the HPV virus.

However, that doesn’t make the situation hopeless. There are many solutions when dealing with the HPV virus.

Sometimes, no treatment is necessary!

For asymptomatic HPV infections, no treatment is required. This is because most HPV infections (around 90% of the cases, according to MOH) are cleared by your body itself.

Treatment for conditions caused by HPV

There are treatments available that can help treat conditions related to HPV. These conditions may be caused by HPV infections, and include pre-cancerous lesions (find definition) and genital warts.

HPV is often scary to some people as there is no cure as of now. Below are more ways you can stop HPV from affecting your health, or even prevent an HPV infection from occurring.


HPV causes Common warts

It is hard to prevent HPV infections that cause common warts. However, you can prevent warts from worsening by not picking at a wart and not biting your nails.

HPV causes Plantar warts

You can reduce the risk of being affected by this type of HPV by wearing shoes or sandals in public pools and locker rooms.

HPV causes Genital warts

You can reduce your risk of developing genital warts and other HPV-related genital lesions by using protection (latex condoms or barrier protection) when having sexual intercourse.

In terms of lifestyle changes, you can also reduce the number of sexual partners you have.

HPV Vaccine

This vaccination can help to protect us from HPV infection types that may lead to cervical cancer. The HPV vaccination is most effective if you take it before you start any sexual activity. Vaccinations for HPV that are approved in Singapore are Cervarix, Gardasil, and Gardasil 9.

Though genital HPV infections are extremely common, many people who have them are not aware of it. This is because HPV often does not present any symptoms and can go away on its own. However, some more serious types of HPV can lead to genital warts and cancer.

So if you or your friends are sexually active, make sure to get checked out and be aware of the risks. And don’t forget to share this article with your friends so they can be informed as well!