What Types of STDs Cause Cancer?

Preventing Untoward Growth – Understanding Cancerous Tumors in STIs

What Types of STDs Cause Cancer?

The entire mechanism of various bodily conditions would perhaps confuse anyone who would try to dig deeper into the more specific variations in the body’s conditions, biomolecules, and response to the presence of pathogenic microorganisms in the body – and it is entirely understandable.

The very fact that the mechanism of various diseases comprises complex pathways and processes would make it inevitably tricky for anyone to comprehend the information unless, of course, a sufficient educational background in the medical or scientific field is present.

This makes it easier to look at why misinformation is so rampant nowadays regarding how particular conditions behave – it is due to the failed attempt of many to oversimplify the processes and presentations into specific short points that would present the data in its butchered form instead of delivering the entire yet brief idea to the public.

This does not say that the entire population is misinformed and that the efforts to make information available to the public did more harm than good, as there are instances where these efforts are incredibly effective in ensuring that the best possible care is provided to the patients. However, the sad reality has started the myriad of misinformed connotations regarding certain conditions – resulting in fear rather than understanding, resulting in uncertainty rather than conclusive comprehending.

This is particularly true in the context of establishing a certain correlation and causation between a specific symptom and an underlying condition – resulting in false equivalencies due to the tendency of some people to falsely associate the presentations of one disease, which overlaps the manifestation of another, despite the lack of any conclusive evidence that could further justify this case. When it comes to sexual health, this is even more rampant as the presentations of various sexually transmitted conditions tend to mimic the symptoms of other diseases, STDs and non-STDs alike. To avoid the spread of false information and aid the public in creating a more refined differential rather than simply pointing out the mistakes of the many, providing information regarding the presentations that make each condition distinct will go a long way in achieving this goal and subsequently preventing the widespread cause of medication errors due to irresponsible self-medication practices. Considering that the medical field is currently struggling with developing sufficient and effective medications for the ever-evolving conditions of the human body, the least that the public could do is avoid the exacerbation of mutation incidences by employing the proper use of reliable resources and ensuring that their treatment regimen is appropriate and safe for their specific condition.

Defining Cancer

Cancer can be outrightly defined as the tendency of specific human body cells to undergo uncontrollable growth and replication that causes problems within the body as it spreads and colonizes particular organs and systems within. The exact cause of cancer is multi-factorial, and associating it with one reason is highly flawed.

In essence, the cells within the body are coded by the person’s genes in such a way that it allows the cell to reproduce and specialize up to a certain level and then undergo a process known as apoptosis or cell death when the cell has reached the end of its life cycle. However, what cancer essentially does is that it employs several mechanisms, extrinsic and intrinsic alike, to prevent the apoptotic process of cells and cause its uncontrollable growth to the point where it no longer abides nor synchronizes with the bodily functions that it is supposed to be responsible for.

Cancer may start up in any part of the body, and once it is found in a particular location, there is also the possibility that the tumor could “metastasize” or travel to other parts of the body. In this case, the cancer is now labeled as malignant. However, please note that some tumors are not cancerous and may be caused by some other variable that caused its over replication in that particular area. This instance is called benign.

Are Tumors Always Evident in Cancer?

On some level, tumors are the most common symptom of cancer as cancer is defined as the over replication of cells to the point where it causes a build-up of cells in a particular location. Although there are also non-cancerous or benign tumors in some instances, tumors are almost always tested if they are cancerous to ensure that the cell’s metastasis is avoided and limited as early as possible.

However, please note that not all cancers have tumors as their primary manifestation, and this is usually evident for cancers that affect the red blood cells and white blood cells, such as leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma.

How Does an STD Cause Cancer?

Although rare in most instances, the correlation between STD infections and cancer is relatively evident in various resources – showing that the chronic damage caused by the infection has caused the cells within the genitalia or any affected area to mutate and develop cancerous cells that would undergo the normal cell cycle of a cancerous cell. For instance, women who have contracted particular sexually transmitted infections are more susceptible to cervical cancer due to the tendency to cause repetitive damage within the cervical tissues of the genitalia. Vaccines, however, are usually administered and recommended to susceptible patients to prevent these infections from occurring and subsequently prevent cancers from developing no matter how low the risk for contraction is.

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High-Risk Causes for Cancer

Although cancer is multi-factorial due to how a multitude of different risk factors may cause chronic damages and result in mutation, the following causes are some of the most common factors that one might encounter in various cancer cases. Do note, however, that the reasons for cancer are not limited to this outline and that this only represents the proportion with the highest prevalence among all the causes.

Smoking and Tobacco

Smoking utilizes cigarettes which are mainly composed of dried tobacco leaves. Although specific add-ons are included to improve the overall flavor of the product, the main composition of cigarettes is still composed of tobacco leaves. Tobacco leaves and the general smoke that cigarettes produce is composed of several carcinogenic chemicals that are all considered high-risk factors for the development of cancers. It contains nicotine, hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde, lead, arsenic, ammonia, benzene, carbon monoxide, TSNAs, and PAHs – all of which are potential causes of cancer in patients who are habitually smoking cigarettes.

Diet and Lack of Physical Activity

Although it might seem like an overused cliché at this point, the impact of diet and physical activity on the overall wellbeing of humans goes far deeper than what you might usually think. Despite it being a given that unhealthy habits would generally result in low health outcomes, weight problems and the lack of any physical stimulation could result in several chronic diseases as well as various cancerous conditions that may be attributed to the increase in hormones released by the body that could stimulate the growth of cancer cells. With this in mind, it is generally recommended to maintain a healthy weight or a BMI value of below or near 25, maintain physical activity daily, follow a regular eating pattern at all ages, and limit the consumption of alcoholic drinks.


Radiation is perhaps the most popular way for people to obtain mutations. It is portrayed in various shows and movies to expound on reality with a bit of exaggeration on behalf of their creative freedom. Nevertheless, it still shows how radiation is essentially able to alter the genetic sequence of a person, resulting in the production of cells that are damaged in the sense that their replication process is faulty at its end-stage cycle. Radiation can be obtained nearly everywhere, with the sun being one widely available source for this type of energy. However, do note that not all the radiation received from the sun is a potential source for cancer, similar to how X-rays are not necessarily a huge risk for developing cancer tumors. The radiation produced by the sun and various medical procedures is usually produced at “healthy doses” that are generally not considered concerning in the context of cancer. However, an increase in exposure, specifically to UVB rays, may cause the development of skin cancers, as evidenced by the various articles highlighting this correlation. This is also why X-rays are not given repeatedly to patients.


Although it might seem odd that infections can cause cancerous tumors in patients, it is, however rare, possible to occur for as long as chronic damages are present to cause the mutations in the normal body cells of the patient. STDs and non-STDs alike, certain infections are considered potential causes for cancer due to their specific mechanism that results in severe damages not only to the physical structure of the cells but also to their underlying genetic sequence.

Epstein-Barr Virus Infection (Infectious Mononucleosis)

The Epstein-Barr Virus is a herpes virus that causes the common condition known as infectious mononucleosis or “mono.” It is often called the kissing disease because it is commonly transmitted through sharing utensils, coughing, sneezing, and kissing. This is particularly prevalent among teenagers in the US, and this infection, similar to how herpes behaves, is lifelong, with available management strategies to prevent further transmission and manifestations. An EBV infection is known as a potential underlying cause for nasopharyngeal cancer and fast-growing lymphomas such as Burkitt lymphoma, while in rare instances, it can be associated with Hodgkin lymphoma and certain types of stomach cancer.

Human T-Lymphotropic Virus-1 Infection (Adult T-Cell Lymphoma/Leukemia or ATL)

HTLV-1 has been linked in several references to the development of lymphocytic leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma called adult T-cell lymphoma or ATL. It is particularly prevalent in southern Japan, the Caribbean, Central Africa, parts of South America, and some immigrant groups in the southeastern US. HTLV-1 infections are relatively rare in the US, but it was found that previously infected and exposed patients may develop ATL at a rate of 5% despite developing no symptoms at all from their initial exposure and manifestation.

Merkel Cell Polyomavirus Infection (Merkel Cell Carcinoma)

MCV was discovered in 2008, and it has been found to cause a rather aggressive type of cancer known as Merkel Cell Carcinoma. MCV infections are relatively common, especially in childhood, but in rare instances, the virus can affect the DNA structure of cells to cause MCC.

Simian Virus 40 Infection (Mesothelioma)

Although SV40 has been known to only infected monkeys, some studies show that infection with SV40 could be linked with the development of mesothelioma, brain tumors, bone cancers, and certain types of lymphoma.

Helicobacter pylori Infection

H. pylori infections are relatively common, and it is the most common cause of stomach inflammation and pain. It usually persists as a long-term infection that could go on for a long time if no appropriate treatment regimens have been administered. This chronic damage results in the development of stomach cancer in certain patients, particularly within the lower part of the stomach.

Opisthorchis viverrini and Clonorcis sinensis Infection

Opisthorchis viverrini and Clonorcis sinensis are known as liver flukes or a type of flatworm that has been found to correlate with bile duct cancer, mainly being attributed to the consumption of raw contaminated underwater fresh fish.

Schistosoma haematobium Infection

Schistosoma haematobium is a parasite found in the waters of certain Middle Eastern countries and Africa and Asia, and they tend to cause an infection known as Schistosomiasis. This infection, however, has been linked to the development of bladder cancer in rare instances.

Sexually Transmitted Infections That May Precipitate Cancerous Tumors

To determine whether further protective measures are necessary along with the standard treatment regimen for cancerous tumors, knowing what STDs may cause cancers could go a long way not only in determining the appropriate approach following the development of a tumor but likewise to be informed regarding the risk of cancer development in the instance that such an infection is contracted.



Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the pathogen known as Chlamydia trachomatis. In most cases, the disease remains asymptomatic in both men and women despite being extremely prevalent throughout the population. However, symptomatic patients would often describe specific symptoms such as endocervical bleeding, discharge, pyuria, dysuria, urinary frequency, and in rare cases, epididymitis. According to certain studies that have examined issues of Chlamydia in infected women, it was found that infected individuals may be at higher risk for developing cervical cancer than patients without any prior exposure. In addition to that, patients would observe pelvic inflammation that may cause infertility if the condition is left untreated for a long time.

Testing Procedure

To diagnose Chlamydia cases and provide a conclusive outlook into the patient’s status, nucleic acid amplification tests or NAATs are usually prescribed due to the need for easily obtainable specimens to perform the analysis. However, cell culture may likewise be employed along with the results of the patient’s physical examination if resources are relatively scarce to utilize the latter option.

Management Strategy

A single-dose or 7-day course of antibiotics is usually prescribed for the resolution of Chlamydia infections and to ensure that the bacteria itself is thoroughly removed from the patient’s system. However, physicians likewise recommend that abstinence be employed while the patient is undergoing treatment to prevent the further transmission of the bacteria to the patient’s respective partner.

Genital Human Papillomavirus Infection (HPV)


HPV is considered the most common sexually transmitted infection, and it is different from HSV or Herpes Simplex Virus, with which it is commonly confused with in multiple cases. HPV is an infection that can sometimes be asymptomatic, while in its symptomatic patients, it produces evident manifestations such as the presence of genital warts and the development of cancerous tumors if the condition is left untreated for a long time. It can be spread through sexual contact, but the disease itself is self-limiting if the body's response is appropriate and sufficient to fight off the infection. In rare cases, severe and chronic HPV infections may cause cancers in the vulva, vagina, penis, and even in the anal region. It may also be a risk factor for cancers of the throat, the base of the tongue, and the tonsils.

Testing Procedure

There is no one way to determine a patient’s HPV status, and there is currently no available diagnostic tool for the diagnosis of HPV in the mouth or throat of the patient. However, there are HPV tests that are essentially used to screen for cervical cancer, but these tests are only indicated for women who are 30 years old and older.

Management Strategy

As of this writing, there is no treatment for the eradication of the virus itself, but its related health problems may be approached with specific management strategies for each apparent symptom. For instance, genital warts can be addressed by medication or manual surgical removal, cervical precancer may be addressed early on to prevent its thorough development, and other types of cancers may be consulted with the appropriate professional to obtain a more rigorous treatment plan moving forward with such a condition.

Hepatitis A


Hepatitis A, caused by the Hepatitis A virus, is also a sexually transmitted condition that can likewise be transferred through the fecal-oral route. This essentially means that the virus may be transmitted through close contact with an infected person, sexual contact, and ingestion of contaminated food or water. When symptomatic, Hepatitis A infections would often present with the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Jaundice
  • Joint pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Clay-colored stool

Testing Procedure

If your physician suspects that you have a Hepatitis A infection, they may order pertinent blood tests that would be necessary to determine whether the virus itself is present in your bloodstream. Only then will a conclusive diagnosis be provided for such a condition.

Management Strategy

Physicians highly recommend adequate rest, nutrition, and fluids to resolve Hepatitis A infections. However, vaccination for Hepatitis A is still the best way to prevent the virus's transmission and avoid contracting the condition itself.

Hepatitis C


Hepatitis C, caused by the Hepatitis C virus, is a condition that is primarily transmitted through exposure to infectious blood or bodily fluids through parenteral means, heavily pointing towards the use of shared syringe needles for the administration of recreational or illegal drugs. However, it has also been found to be transmitted through being birthed by an HCV-positive patient, sexual intercourse, unregulated tattooing, and other invasive healthcare procedures. Upon contracting the condition, the following manifestations are common among infected patients:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored stool
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Jaundice
  • Joint pain

Testing Procedure

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the universal Hepatitis C screening process for all adults and pregnant women, except in instances where the condition's prevalence is low enough to justify the absence of consistent testing. However, in patients already suspected of having the infection, your physician may request a rapid blood test that could determine whether the virus is present in your system.

Management Strategy

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the following management strategies are immediately provided for patients who have tested positive for the presence of the Hepatitis C virus in their system:

  • Medical evaluation for the subsequent management strategies the patient must employ (avoidance of alcohol, the risk for transmission, etc.)
  • Provision of Hepatitis A and B vaccinations
  • Screening and briefing for patient’s alcohol consumption
  • HIV risk assessment and testing

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long should you wait following a Hepatitis infection before you can donate blood again?

At least 12 months is recommended to ensure that no transmission will occur.

Is it possible to have asymptomatic Hepatitis?

Yes. It is sometimes referred to as another silent infection due to how asymptomatic most cases are.

Can late-stage Syphilis still be cured completely?

Yes, but the damages to the body's internal structures can no longer be resolved.

Can Syphilis be detected even if the infection has already been resolved?

Yes. Treponemal tests are even more sensitive to the presence of these antibodies, even if the infection is already resolved.

Where was Syphilis previously endemic to?

The STD known as Syphilis that is now prevalent around the globe was from an endemic variant of Syphilis that came from South-Western Asia, primarily due to the lower temperatures of the post-glacial era.


World Health Organization

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Treatment Improvement Protocol Series Number 53

  • American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Bacteria that Can Lead to Cancer. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/infectious-agents/infections-that-can-lead-to-cancer/bacteria.html
  • American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Diet and Physical Activity: What’s the Cancer Connection? https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/diet-physical-activity/diet-and-physical-activity.html
  • American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Harmful Chemicals in Tobacco Products. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/tobacco-and-cancer/carcinogens-found-in-tobacco-products.html
  • American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Infections that Can Lead to Cancer. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/infectious-agents/infections-that-can-lead-to-cancer.html
  • American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Parasites that Can Lead to Cancer. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/infectious-agents/infections-that-can-lead-to-cancer/parasites.html
  • American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/radiation-exposure/uv-radiation.html
  • American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Viruses that Can Lead to Cancer. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/infectious-agents/infections-that-can-lead-to-cancer/viruses.html
  • American Sexual Health Association. (n.d.). The National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet. https://www.ashasexualhealth.org/stis-and-cancer/
  • Cancer.net. (2019). What is Cancer? https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/cancer-basics/what-cancer
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Chlamydia – CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed). https://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/stdfact-chlamydia-detailed.htm
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Genital HPV – Fact Sheet. https://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Hepatitis A Questions and Answers for Health Professionals. https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav/havfaq.htm#general
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Hepatitis A Questions and Answers for the Public. https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav/afaq.htm#D1
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Hepatitis C Questions and Answers for Health Professionals. https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/hcvfaq.htm#section3
  • KMD Law. (n.d.). How Do STDs Cause Cancer? https://www.kmdlaw.com/blog/2020/november/how-do-stds-cause-cancer-/
  • Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Cancer. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20370588
  • National Cancer Institute. (n.d.). What is Cancer? https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/what-is-cancer

Written by Mark Riegel, MD

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