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Can Herpes Lead to Cancer?

Medically reviewed by John Paul Abrina, MD · Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital

Written by Jason Inocencio · Updated Jul 25, 2022

Can Herpes Lead to Cancer?

Cancer is one of the most concerning diseases. Since its discovery, doctors and scientists have dedicated their lives to finding a cure for cancer. Countless individuals have looked at what causes cancer to find a cure. Causes for cancer development being studied have included lifestyle, food, and environment. Sexually transmitted diseases are among those being studied. That being the case, can herpes lead to cancer?

What is herpes? What is herpes zoster?

Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted disease caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). It spreads primarily via sexual contact. The virus can lie dormant in your body after the initial infection and can reactivate several times a year.

Genital herpes can cause, pain, itching, and sores in the genital area. There are no signs and symptoms of genital herpes. If you are infected, you can be contagious even if there are no visible sores. Genital herpes has no cure. Medications can lessen the symptoms and reduce the chance of infecting others.

In contrast, herpes zoster (or shingles) is a viral infection that causes an outbreak of a painful rash or blisters on the skin. The same virus that causes chickenpox causes the varicella-zoster virus which causes shingles.

Can herpes lead to cancer?

A January 2021 study noted that herpes simplex virus type 2 infections correlate with a higher-than-normal incidence of cervical cancer. In many ways, cervical cancer behaves as a sexually transmitted disease, not limited to types of human papillomavirus (HPV).

Still, other studies have concluded that HSV-2 is not a major risk factor. The study concludes that herpes simplex virus type 2 may be a co-factor in some, but not all cervical cancer cases.

On the other hand, herpes zoster has been associated with immune suppression and an increased risk of cancer. Research published in 1982 did not support the investigation of patients for occult cancer at the time of diagnosis of herpes zoster. It did not support enhanced surveillance for cancer after diagnosis either.

That is in contrast with a 2016 study. A systematic review and meta-analysis of evidence on herpes zoster and risk of occult cancer was conducted. This study supported an association between herpes zoster and occult cancer. However, the low absolute risk of cancer limits the clinical implications.

Patients being treated for cancer, also for herpes simplex virus

 To examine the effects of interventions for the prevention of HSV patients being treated for cancer, research has been undertaken. The effects of treatment for the herpes simplex virus were also studied. The cancer treatment was increasingly effective but associated with a viral infection such as HSV, noted the research published in 2009.

Recurrent HSV type 1 infection in patients who are immunocompromised due to treatment for cancer may be more aggressive, painful, and slower to heal. These more extensive lesions often require much longer treatment. These may leave the patient more susceptible to developing drug‐resistant strains of HSV. 

Key Takeaways

There have long been concerns that viral infections can lead to more serious conditions like cancer. The common sexually transmitted diseases genital herpes and herpes zoster are among these suspected diseases.

Studies have been conducted to determine if genital herpes or herpes zoster (a.k.a. shingles) can lead to forms of cancer.  Some patients treated for the herpes simplex virus have also been treated for cancer to examine a connection. Results of those studies have been mostly contradictory and inconclusive. For a definitive answer to the question – “Can herpes lead to cancer?”, more research needs to be conducted in the future.

To learn more about Genital Herpes, click here


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

John Paul Abrina, MD

Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital

Written by Jason Inocencio · Updated Jul 25, 2022

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