HPV infection causes changes to the cells of the cervix creating abnormalities, it affects the DNA in the cells meaning new cells will be abnormal. HPV attacks the basal cells of the cervix (these are specific cells found in skin that reproduce new skin cells) [1]. These abnormalities can result in the production of damaged and disorganised cervical cells that cannot function correctly. Once these abnormalities become severe they can develop into cancer which is why cervical screening and HPV vaccination are important in helping to prevent cancer.

99.7% of cervical cancers are caused by HPV [2]. Around 13 high-risk types of HPV are responsible for causing cervical cancers [3]. Within the high–risk group types 16 and 18 are the most prevalent, causing over 70% of cervical cancers [4].

40% to 80% of some anogenital cancers (anus, vulva, vagina and penis), as well as 47% to 70%
of oropharyngeal cancers (head, neck, throat and tongue) are caused by HPV. These cancers of 
the mouth and airways are most likely linked to people performing oral sex, not protecting their 
mouths and because they lay dormant for many years it surfaces later as a cancer. [5]

80% of women are infected with genital HPV at some point in their lives, but never know they have been infected because HPV is usually cleared (without treatment) by the body’s immune system. However, a small percentage of women do not clear the infection and it can remain ‘dormant’ (inactive) or persistent in their bodies, sometimes for many years [6] [7]. We still do not understand why some women are able to clear the infection while in others the virus may lead to the development of abnormal cells and possibly cervical cancer.


  1. Dunleavey R. 2009. Cervical Cancer: a guide for nurses. Wiley-Blackwell, UK, 9.
  2. Walboomers JMM et al.,1999. Human papillomavirus is a necessary cause of invasive cancer worldwide. Journal of Pathology, 189 (1), 12–19.
  3. 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.
  4. Bosch FX et al., 2008. Epidemiology and natural history of human papillomavirus infections and type-specific implications in cervical neoplasia. Vaccine 26 (10), K1-16.
  5. Institut National de Santé Publique du Québec (INSPQ). (2013). Les infections au virus du papillome humain (VPH) et le portrait des cancers associés à ces infections au Québec. Taken from: http://www.inspq.qc.ca/pdf/publications/1709_infecVPHPortrCancersAssoInfecQc.pdf
  6. 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.
  7. 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.


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