Pathology dictionary

Human papillomavirus (HPV)

What is human papillomavirus?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted virus. It is so common that most sexually active adults will be exposed to the virus at some point in their lives. The virus is spread by direct contact. Human papillomavirus infects squamous cells which are normally found in the skin, mouth and throat, anal canal, and cervix.

Several diseases are caused by human papillomavirus. These disease include non-cancerous growths, pre-cancerous growths, and cancerous tumours. Most cancers caused by human papilloma virus are called squamous cell carcinoma.

Pathologists perform a test called immunohistochemistry to see if a tumour is caused by human papillomavirus. The test looks for a protein called p16 and cells that have been infected by the virus produce more p16 than normal cells. Pathologists call p16 a surrogate marker because it is used to prove human papillomavirus is inside a cell without looking for the virus directly.

Pre-cancerous diseases caused by human papilloma virus

Cancers caused by human papillomavirus

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