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Ontario's HPV vaccination program

What is HPV?

HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in Canada and worldwide.  HPV is, the number one cause of all cervical cancers, and contributes to other HPV-associated cancers and diseases. It is estimated that three out of four adults will get HPV in their lifetime. There are many different types of HPV. Some types of HPV can cause cancer of the cervix in women, and other types can lead to genital warts and other cancers in both men and women. Fortunately, most HPV infections and cervical cancers can be prevented with the HPV vaccine.

HPV and the link to Cervical Cancer

When a woman becomes infected with HPV, cells change in the cervix. In most cases, as the body fights off the virus, the cells return to normal. In some cases, the abnormal cells remain in the body, and over a number of years these can slowly lead to cancer if not treated properly. Cervical cancer is the second most common form of cancer in women, and HPV is the number one cause of all cervical cancer cases. If immunized, a woman reduces the risk of HPV infection as well as getting cervical cancer.

HPV immunization as well as regular PAP tests (starting at age 21) will significantly reduce the risk of cervical cancer in women. Since HPV vaccination does not protect against all cervical cancers, regular Pap tests are still important for detecting abnormal cervical cells, which could later become cancerous. For more information about HPV and cervical screening, please visit Cancer Care Ontario.

How HPV Spreads

HPV is usually spread during sexual activity involving direct skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. The body's immune system usually gets rid of the virus on its own but in some cases the virus can lead to cervical cancer.

HPV Symptoms

Most HPV types cause no signs or symptoms. Depending on the type of HPV, the infection may cause cervical cancer, cervical abnormalities, other cancers and/or genital warts.

The HPV vaccine is a major breakthrough, and can help prevent future cases of cervical cancer.

About Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix. The cervix is at the opening of the uterus. The cells of the cervix are constantly being renewed. Sometimes, these cells change and become abnormal. Often, abnormal cells naturally return to normal. But if they don't they may, slowly over a number of years, become cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, but every year about 630 women are diagnosed with cancer of the cervix and about 150 women die of this disease in Ontario.

Causes of cervical cancer

Certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) cause cervical cancer. HPV is a family of viruses commonly found in both men and women. HPV is passed from one person to another through intimate sexual contact.

Most people come into contact with HPV at some time in their life. Usually there are no symptoms and often people don't even know that they have an HPV infection. The infection usually goes away naturally within two years.

An HPV infection causes cell changes in the cervix. For most women, the cells change back to normal when the infection goes away. Sometimes, for reasons that are not well understood, an HPV infection stays in the body for a long time. Over a number of years, the abnormal cells can slowly lead to cancer they are not followed appropriately and, if necessary, treated.

Most women with HPV infection do not develop cervical cancer.

Preventing HPV Infection through Immunization

HPV vaccine prevents infection from HPV and reduces the risk of cervical cancer as well as genital warts. In Ontario, HPV immunization is offered free of charge to Grade 8 girls through school-based clinics. The vaccine is also available through public health units to girls in grades 9 – 12 who did not begin or did not complete their immunizations in Grade 8.

For More Information

Call ServiceOntario, Infoline at 1-866-559-4598
TTY 1-800-387-5559.
In Toronto, TTY 416-327-4282
Hours of operation : 8:30am - 5:00pm

If you are a member of the media, call Communications and Information Branch at 416-314-6197 or visit our News Room section.