Viruses & Cancer

Certain viruses have been linked to different types of cancer. Three of these known viruses are human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis B (HBV) and hepatitis C (HCV). You can be immunized (get a shot) to protect yourself against HPV or HBV. There is no vaccine against HCV at this time.

Risk Factors

You might be at increased risk for HPV if you:

  • Have had many sexual partners
  • Are a woman who has had unprotected sex with uncircumcised men
  • Are a man who is uncircumcised

You might be at increased risk for HBV if you:

  • Have sex with someone who is infected
  • Have multiple sexual partners
  • Have a sexually transmitted disease
  • Are a man who has sex with other men
  • Inject drugs
  • Live with someone who has chronic HBV
  • Have traveled to a country where many people have HBV
  • Are exposed to blood at work
  • Get long-term hemodialysis
  • Were born to a mother with HBV

You might be at increased risk for HCV if you:

  • Are exposed to blood at work
  • Were born between 1945 and 1965
  • Have ever injected drugs
  • Received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992 (This is when blood and organs started being screened for HCV)
  • Got a tattoo or body piercing done with unsterile equipment
  • Were treated for a blood clotting problem before 1987
  • Are on long-term hemodialysis
  • Are infected with HIV


HPV usually has no symptoms, unless it is an HPV type that causes genital warts. Sometimes HPV infections that are not attacked and cleared by the immune system can lead to cell changes that may develop into cancer over many years.

HBV is more likely to cause symptoms, such as a flu-like illness and a yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice). But most people recover completely from an HBV infection within a few months. Only a very small percentage of adults remain infected (and have a higher risk for liver cancer). Infants and small children who become infected have a higher risk of becoming chronic carriers.

HCV, on the other hand, is less likely to cause symptoms. But most people with HCV develop chronic infections, which are more likely to lead to liver damage or even cancer. The good news is that there is more than one treatment for HCV, which can often cure you and reduce your risk of liver cancer.

To learn more about risk factors and risk reduction for HBV and HCV, see Liver Cancer.



There is a vaccine available to protect against the types of HPV that are most likely to cause cancer. It is most effective if you are vaccinated before becoming sexually active. The vaccine is recommended for girls who are age 11 or 12. Girls may also be vaccinated at age 9 or 10, or receive a “catch-up” vaccine up to age 18. Young women ages 19 to 26 who have never been vaccinated may also get the vaccine.

The HPV vaccine is also recommended for boys age 11 or 12. Teenagers and young men ages 13 to 21 who have never been vaccinated may also get the vaccine. The vaccine is also recommended for any man who has sex with men through age 26, and for men with weakened immune systems (including HIV) through age 26, if they did not get HPV vaccine when they were younger.

The HPV vaccine series is three shots over a period of six months.

There is currently no vaccination for HCV. You can get vaccinated against HBV if you are at risk.

Early Detection

While there is currently no vaccination for HCV, you can get tested for it.

Think About the Link

Think About the Link is a multi-year prevention and education campaign from the Foundation advancing awareness of the connection between cancer and viruses. Visit the campaign’s page to learn more.

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 3.25.04 PM

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Treatment Options

There is no treatment for HPV itself, which makes vaccination even more important. However, there are treatments for cell changes that HPV can cause. Talk to your doctor about getting screened. Some screening tests can detect cell changes caused by HPV that can be treated before they become cancer.

To learn more about risk factors and risk reduction, see Cervical Cancer.