Healthcare provider explaining to patient whether you can get cervical cancer without HPV

Can you get cervical cancer without HPV?

Written on March 12, 2023 by Theresa Vuskovich, DMD. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), affecting over 40 million Americans [1]. The lifetime risk of getting HPV is about 85% [2]. HPV is linked to the development of several types of cancers, including oropharyngeal cancer and cervical cancer [1-3].

HPV is the most common cause of cervical cancer [3]. But can you get cervical cancer without HPV? Yes, you can get cervical cancer without HPV. However, only 5.5-11% of cervical cancer cases are HPV-negative [4].

Approximately 93% of all cervical cancer cases are preventable [5]. HPV vaccines are the best way to prevent HPV and cervical cancer [1]. Understanding HPV and cervical cancer can help you make informed health decisions. This article explains the connection between cervical cancer and HPV, along with ways to protect yourself.

Understanding cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus leading to the vagina. The cervix protects the uterus from pathogens. In the United States, approximately 13,000 new cases occur, and 4,000 women will die from cervical cancer each year [6].

Cancer is a disease caused by uncontrolled cell growth. Normally, your body has a system of checks and balances to ensure cells grow properly. When exposed to specific pathogens, your body can lose its ability to control cell growth.

When a virus can cause cancer, the virus is called an oncogenic virus. HPV has multiple types or strains, and only some can cause cancer. There are over 200 types or strains of HPV, but only two are commonly associated with cervical cancer.

Risk factors for cervical cancer

Having HPV strain 16 or 18 increases your risk of developing cervical cancer [7]. About 70% of cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV 16 and 18 [7]. Other factors also increase the risk of cervical cancer. You are at greater risk of cervical cancer if you have a history of any of the following [8,12]:

  • Smoking
  • Long-term use of birth control pills
  • Previous or current chlamydia infection (the most common bacteria STI)
  • Multiple pregnancies
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • A weakened immune system due to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

Symptoms of cervical cancer

Cervical cancer often does not have any symptoms. Symptoms are more likely to develop later in the disease. The following are symptoms associated with cervical cancer [9]:

  • Vaginal discharge with a strong odor or blood
  • Vaginal bleeding after sex
  • Pelvic pain
  • Pain during sex
  • Uncomfortable bowel movements
  • Painful urination

Understanding HPV

HPV 16 and 18 are most commonly transmitted through skin-to-skin contact [3]. Everyone is at risk for HPV, but sexual contact is one of the main ways to contract the virus [1,11]. The virus primarily spreads during vaginal or anal sex but can also spread via oral contact [1].

HPV can affect both men and women [11]. For men, HPV can cause other types of cancers, including anal cancer, oropharyngeal cancer, and penile cancer [11]. The most common HPV-related cancer in the United States is oropharyngeal cancer [11].

HPV infections go away without treatment in 90% of cases. You may not even know you contracted the virus. HPV is prevalent, so your chances of getting it are high. However, several factors can increase your risk of acquiring HPV.

Risk factors for HPV

There's a higher chance of contracting HPV if you have [3]:

  • Sex with a partner who has had multiple sex partners
  • A weakened immune system
  • Sexual contact without protection

Symptoms of HPV

Warts are the most common HPV symptom, but most people with HPV do not have symptoms. Genital warts are commonly associated with HPV [3]. Genital warts appear as flat lesions or cauliflower-like bumps [3]. A woman may discover she has HPV through a Pap test, which examines the cervix for abnormal cells to detect cervical cancer.

How HPV causes cervical cancer

The HPV virus causes cervical cancer by altering the DNA of your cervical cells. When the virus affects your cervical cells, abnormal cells can grow [11]. When you have a pap smear, your healthcare provider is looking for the early stages of abnormal cell growth [11,12].

HPV is one of seven viruses known to cause cancer [11]. However, most HPV infections do not lead to cancer. If you have a weakened immune system and repeated exposure to the virus, you are more likely to develop cervical cancer [11,12]. HPV-infected cervical cells can take up to 20 years to develop into cancerous tumors [3].

Steps to protect yourself from HPV and cervical cancer

You can take steps to help prevent HPV and cervical cancer:

  1. Get vaccinated
  2. Practice safe sex by using condoms
  3. Reduce your number of sexual partners
  4. Get your pap test every three years
  5. Keep your immune system strong
  6. Have an HPV test

Check your cervical cancer risk with Everlywell's HPV Test

Everlywell's at-home HPV test for women (people assigned female at birth) can help determine your cervical cancer risk. This test detects 14 HPV strains, including the most common two strains associated with cervical cancer-HPV 16 and HPV 18. While having HPV does not mean you will develop cervical cancer, this test can help you better understand your risk.

You can also talk privately to a healthcare provider about STIs via Everlywell. Our virtual care visits are designed to help you understand your test results, assess your risk factors, and create a personalized treatment plan.

What is HPV and how is it transmitted?

Does HPV go away?

Can you get HPV without having sex?


  1. STD Facts - Human papillomavirus (HPV). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Published January 14, 2019. Accessed March 1, 2023.
  2. Reasons to get HPV vaccine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Published October 7, 2022. Accessed March 1, 2023.
  3. HPV infection. Mayo Clinic. URL Published October 12, 2021. Accessed February 27, 2023.
  4. Xing B, Guo J, Sheng Y, Wu G, Zhao Y. Human Papillomavirus-Negative Cervical Cancer: A Comprehensive Review. Front Oncol. 2021 February 17;10:606335. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2020.606335. PMID: 33680928; PMCID: PMC7925842. URL
  5. Cervical cancer is preventable. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Published March 16, 2020. Accessed March 1, 2023.
  6. Cervical cancer statistics. URL. Published August 10, 2022. Accessed March 1, 2023.
  7. Okunade KS. Human papillomavirus and cervical cancer [published correction appears in J Obstet Gynaecol. 2020 May;40(4):590]. J Obstet Gynaecol. 2020;40(5):602-608. doi:10.1080/01443615.2019.1634030. URL
  8. Cervical cancer risk factors. URL. Accessed March 1, 2023.
  9. Cervical cancer symptoms. National Cancer Institute. URL. Published October 13, 2022. Accessed March 1, 2023.
  10. Viruses that Can Lead to Cancer. URL. Accessed March 1, 2023.
  11. HPV and cancer. National Cancer Institute. URL. Published March 1, 2019. Accessed March 1, 2023.
  12. National Comprehensive Cancer Network. Patient Guidelines: Cervical Cancer. URL. Published 2022. Accessed February 24, 2023.
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