Viruses and Cancer

Viruses and Cancer

The human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis B and hepatitis C are viruses that can cause cancer. Hundreds of thousands of people in the world suffer from cancers caused by viruses and millions more suffer from the viruses that cause them, but many people are unaware that a link exists between certain viruses and cancer.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect against viruses, and ultimately, prevent cancer.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) consists of many viral types, and many of them are spread through vaginal, anal or oral sex. Certain types of HPV can cause these cancers: cervical cancer, vulvar cancer, vaginal cancer, penile cancer, anal cancer and oropharyngeal cancer (cancer of the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year there are about 47,199 new cases of cancer in parts of the body where HPV is found, and an estimated 37,300 of them are caused by HPV.

Studies show that HPV is probably responsible for more than 90% of anal and cervical cancers and the majority of vaginal, vulvar, penile and oropharyngeal cancers.

What Puts You at Increased Risk for HPV?

HPV is very common and nearly all sexually active people get the virus at some point in their lives. Most HPV infections clear on their own, but some infections can cause cancer.

You may be at increased risk for HPV if you are uncircumcised or if you are a female who has had sex (without a condom) with uncircumcised partners.

Reduce Your Risk

HPV vaccination protects against the types of HPV most likely to cause cancer, and it is most effective if done before a person is exposed to the virus. All young people ages 9–12 should get vaccinated against HPV. Vaccination is also recommended for teens and young adults up to age 26. If the vaccine is given as recommended, it can prevent more than 90% of HPV-related cancers.

The vaccine is given in two or three shots, depending on the age at vaccination. There is no treatment for HPV infection, which makes vaccination even more important. However, some screening tests can detect cell changes caused by HPV, and those changes can be treated before they become cancer. Talk to your health care provider about the HPV vaccine and about getting screened.

Click here to learn more about risk factors and risk reduction for cervical cancer.

The human papillomavirus, or HPV, is linked to almost all cervical cancers and at least five other types of cancer including vulvar, vaginal, penile and anal cancers, and oropharyngeal cancer.

Hepatitis B and C are linked to liver cancer.

Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C

Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are viruses linked to liver cancer. 

You can be vaccinated against hepatitis B. If you were not vaccinated for hepatitis B, testing and treatment are available.

While there is currently no vaccine for hepatitis C, you can get tested for it and, if you test positive, treated for the virus.

Most liver cancers are related to chronic infection with the hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus. Many people do not know they have these viruses and thus do not receive treatment that can prevent liver cancer. From 2010 to 2020, an estimated 150,000 people in the U.S. died from liver disease or liver cancer linked to chronic hepatitis B or hepatitis C infection. 

Click here to learn more about liver cancer.

What Puts You at Increased Risk for Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C

You can become infected with hepatitis B or hepatitis C through sexual contact, contact with blood (such as through sharing needles or syringes, job-related exposure to blood or donated blood or blood products, like plasma or platelets) or from mother to child during birth (more likely for hepatitis B than hepatitis C).

Reduce Your Risk

All children and adults up to age 59, as well as adults age 60 and over who are at high risk should be vaccinated against hepatitis B. If you are not vaccinated, you can be tested for hepatitis B and treated if it is found, but vaccination is the best way to protect against the virus and prevent liver cancer.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that all persons ages 18 and older should be screened for hepatitis C at least once in their lifetime. If it is found, it can be treated, which can cure the infection. 

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