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What other diseases can HPV cause?

The female anogenital tract diagram

In addition to cervical cancer, HPV can cause cancer or pre-cancerous conditions in the vulva, vagina and anus, and genital warts.

In females, the vulva, vagina and cervix are all connected. The vulva becomes the vagina and leads to the cervix, also known as the neck of the womb. This means that, as well as the cervix, HPV can infect the cells of the vulva and vagina, and the external genital area.

HPV-related diseases don’t just affect females; the virus also causes disease in males, such as anal cancer and genital warts.

Vulval pre-cancer

Pre-cancerous lesions in the vulva — the outer area of the female genitals — are changes in the skin cells of the vulva that slowly develop. The lesions are known as ‘vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia’ or VIN. VIN is not cancer and can disappear by itself. However, it may develop into vulval cancer over time. In the UK, around 3 women are diagnosed with cancer in the vulva every day, and the disease caused 453 deaths in 2014.

HPV is present in around 80% of pre-cancerous vulval lesions and 35% of vulval cancers. Most of the lesions in the vulva that are caused by HPV are caused by HPV types 16 and 18.

Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of VIN vary and include:

  • Itching and soreness in the vulval area
  • Burning or a severe tingling sensation that can become worse when passing urine
  • One or more areas of reddened, white or discoloured skin in the vulval area
  • Warty appearance of the skin

If you experience any of these symptoms you should seek advice from a healthcare professional.

Treatment
The treatment for VIN depends on the size of the lesions. The most likely treatment option is surgery to remove the affected cells.

Vaginal pre-cancer

Pre-cancerous lesions in the vagina are changes in the skin cells of the vagina that slowly develop. The lesions are known as ‘vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia’ or VaIN. VaIN is not cancer and can disappear by itself. However, it may develop into vaginal cancer over time. Vaginal cancer is rare in the UK, with around 4 women diagnosed every week and 110 deaths caused by the disease in 2014.

HPV is present in more than 90% of pre-cancerous vaginal lesions and around 75% of vaginal cancers. Most of the lesions in the vagina that are caused by HPV are caused by HPV types 16 and 18.

Symptoms
VaIN does not have any symptoms. It can occur in just one area of the vagina but usually affects several different areas at the same time.

Treatment
The treatment for VaIN depends on the size of the lesions. If treatment is required, the most likely options are removal or destruction of the affected cells. Radiotherapy may be required if the lesion is widespread or if the lesion returns following initial treatment.

Anal cancer

Anal cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the anus. In the UK, around 1,300 people are diagnosed with anal cancer each year. It occurs more often in women than men. In men, anal cancer is more common in those who have sex with men. As with other HPV-related cancers, people who have a weakened immune system, including HIV-positive individuals, are at a higher risk.

90% of anal cancers are caused by HPV infection of the anal canal, mainly by HPV types 16 and 18. Similar to cervical cancer, anal cancer begins with ongoing HPV infection and progresses through a series of pre-cancerous stages known as ‘anal intraepithelial neoplasia’ or AIN. Most of the lesions in the anus that are caused by HPV are caused by HPV types 16 and 18.

Symptoms
Symptoms of anal cancer include:

  • Bleeding from the anus
  • Pain, discomfort and itching around the anus
  • Small lumps around the anus
  • Difficulty controlling the bowels

If you experience any of these symptoms you should seek advice from a healthcare professional.

Treatment
The main type of treatment for anal cancer is a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Surgery may also be used. There is no screening programme for anal cancer in the UK at the moment.

Genital warts

Genital warts are one of the most commonly diagnosed sexually transmitted infections in the UK. Around 90% of all genital warts are caused by HPV types 6 and 11.

Symptoms
Genital warts are small bumps or skin changes that may occur on the vulva, vagina, cervix, penis or scrotum, in the perineum (the area between the anus and the scrotum or vulva) or around the anus. They may be tiny and difficult to see.

Genital warts may cause:

  • Bleeding
  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Fissures
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Inflammation of the glans, foreskin or vulva

Although not life-threatening, genital warts can be distressing, causing anxiety, guilt, anger and loss of self-esteem.

Treatment

In up to 30% of cases, genital warts disappear naturally. For those that do not disappear, treatment is needed for symptom relief and to remove the warts. The choice of treatment depends on the number, location, shape and size of the warts as well as patient preference, and includes applying liquids or creams or freezing the warts.

For some people the warts may come back again weeks, months or even years later.


Information provided on this website is not intended to replace the advice of a healthcare professional.

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