High- and Low-Risk HPV Subtypes

Q:  I have a low-risk subtype of HPV.  Can you explain what this means?

A: The human papilloma virus (HPV) comes in 150 or more subtypes.  Think of it like the many models of automobiles that all fall under the designation “Ford.”  Subtypes found most often in the respiratory and genital tracts are 6 and 11.  HPV infection is associated with some degree of risk of stimulating, or converting to, a carcinoma.  Hence the higher risk of cervical cancer in women with HPV infection.  Some subtypes are considered to have a low risk of viral carcinogenesis; others have a high risk.  At BVI, the majority of our many adult patients have 6 or 11, both of which are low-risk subtypes.  We also have one or two who have both 6 and 11.  Then we have a handful of patients with intermediate or high risk for cancer.  A few of these high-risk subtypes have in fact caused cancers in our population of ~150 adult patients  with RRP.  Thankfully, all have responded well to treatment and none to my memory have died from their cancer.