Most people are genuinely aware of the connection between sudden growths on skin and the possibility of cancer. So it is not uncommon for genital warts to immediately cause intense worrying about cancer risk. The truth of the matter is, the forms of HPV that cause genital warts do not also cause cancer with any regularity. So in this case individuals who are suffering from genital warts have great reason to rejoice with regards to serious dangers. While it is not impossible to get both the cancer-causing strains and the wart-causing strains, typically those with warts have no need to worry as it is very rare.
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Can genital warts be cancerous?
It is important to be informed about the connection between genital warts and cancer. The only true connection they have are that both genital warts and some types of cancer are directly related to the human papillomavirus. There are over 100 strains of HPV but, the strains that cause genital warts do not cause cancer except in extremely rare situations. Therefore genital warts are generally deemed not cancerous.
HPV infective strains are divided up into 2 categories:
The first ones are those that are most likely to cause cancer, they have no external symptoms. Low-risk strains are those that cause genital warts, the risk is considered low because they are overall harmless and have less than a 1% chance of causing cancer. Learn more about genital warts testing by reading here. Due to the extreme rarity of cancer causing warts, it is generally accepted as an impossibility.
Genital wart strains and cancer strains of HPV do not cancel each other out or prevent additional infections. It is entirely possible to contract multiple strains of HPV and thus suffer from both genital cancers as well as warts.
The later stages of penile cancer can sometimes be confused with genital warts. The symptoms of penile cancer often include a sore or lump on the penis. Care should be taken to recognize the differences between genital warts and other serious problems such as cancer. It is best to speak with your doctor immediately if you have any doubts or concerns.
Which cancers are linked to the HPV infection?
HPV strains 6 and 11 cause nearly all cases of genital warts, while strains 16 and 18 cause a great majority of cancers. Before asking yourself does HPV 16 cause warts, consider once again that warts come from non-cancerous strains. When diagnosed with HPV due to a doctor discovering pre-cancerous cells, many women may wonder do high risk HPV strains cause warts? The answer is no, cancer-causing HPV strains do not cause warts. Among high-risk strains of the human papillomavirus, cancers and precancerous cells are the only real symptoms.
HPV can cause several forms of cancer located in these areas:
- In or on the cervix.
- On both sets of labia or the pubic mound.
- In and around the vaginal canal.
- In and around the throat, particularly the vocal cords.
- Inside the mouth.
- In and around the anus and anal canal.
Of each of these, cancer of the cervix is the most likely occurence for the more dangerous strains. In fact, more than 70% of all cervical cancer cases in the world are due to HPV. By contrast, vulvar and vaginal cancers are a great deal less common, though they can also begin when cervical cancer spreads. As with all cancers, early detection is the most important factor in survival. Cervical cancer has one of the highest early stage detection survival rates, with over 90% at the five year mark.
For men, the biggest threat from HPV are mouth and throat cancers. These make up the largest percentage of cancers caused by this infection in men. While anal cancer is also common for men, it does occur in women as well at a somewhat lower rate of occurrence. Penile cancer also frequently occurs in men with cancer-causing strains of the virus. Anal cancers are more likely in HIV infected men, and men who are in a homosexual relationship.
There is no accepted HPV test for men, but that doesn’t mean ignore your body. Report any ongoing throat issues to your doctor, along with any abnormal changes to the penile skin. Anal cancer screening is available for high-risk demographics.
Genital warts and cervical cancer connection
As mentioned previously, the chance of genital warts causing cancer is so low it is typically rejected as a possibility in the medical field. Thus, it is important to understand the lack of connection between cervical cancer and genital warts. While it is true you can get warts on or around your cervix, they do not actually contribute to your cancer risk in any way. Ensuring you have routine pap smears by your GYN is your best defense against cervical cancer.
There is nothing you can do to detect cervical cancer by yourself. Only pap smears, cervical biopsies and cervical exams will be able to recognize the pre-cancerous changes or cancer of the cervix. These cell changes are called cervical dysplasia and are the first definite sign of HPV in women and soon to be cancer. Luckily, when dysplasia is detected before progression you can be treated in order to prevent cancer from developing.
Can HPV vaccine prevent common genital cancers
The first HPV vaccine was created and approved for use in 2006. Discover more about the genital wart vaccine in this article. It protected against the 4 most common strains of HPV, two that caused most cancers and two that caused genital warts. Recently, the vaccines have steadily improved, increasing protection for the nine most common strains.
As the vaccine prevents infections from the most common strains of HPV, it does in fact prevent the most common genital cancers. As with all vaccines, it does not work on every individual who takes it, but it is the first line of defense in the fight against genital cancers.
Gardasil 9, the current vaccine, protects women and girls from these results of 9 types of HPV:
- Warts on or around the genitals.
- Common cancers of the cervix.
- Cancer of the anal tract.
- Vaginal tract cancer.
- Cancer of the vulval area.
For men and boys, Gardasil 9 protects from:
- Warts on or around the genitals and urethral opening.
- Cancer of the penis.
- Cancer of the anal tract.
Individuals who take the vaccine need to be aware that it will not and can not treat cancer or genital warts. So if you already have had an outbreak, it is too late to receive the vaccine. More detailed info about genital wart outbreaks can be found here.
Additionally, there are a large amount of cancer-causing and wart-causing strains of the virus. The vaccine does not protect against all of them and instead only protects against the most common 9. Thus vaccination is not a guarantee of avoiding genital warts or cancer, but greatly decreases the risk.
Am I too old for the vaccine?
For years, the vaccine has been restricted to children, and has only recently been recommended for some adults up to their 20s. Many people express confusion at why there is an age limit for recommendation on the HPV vaccine. The reason is simple, HPV is the most common STI in the world, it is estimated that 75% of the sexually active population has been exposed or is currently infected by it at some point. The theory then is that the vaccine would be wasted on people with previous exposure, which is most of the adult population.
Fortunately, some doctors will consider allowing you to have the vaccine if you ask with some persistence. It is not illegal to use it at a later age, it is just beyond the standard recommendations.
The only significant concern of genitals warts is their ability to spread the virus to other people. In all but the most rare of cases, genital warts do not ever cause cancer or put you at risk for cancer. Other, non-wart versions of the HPV virus can cause cancers, particularly in women. Only gynecological exams will be able to detect these cancers or pre-cancerous symptoms. Vaccines remain the greatest defense against both genital warts and cancer caused by HPV, but it is important to realize that vaccinations are not perfect.