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What is HPV?
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of related viruses. They can cause warts on different parts of your body. There are more than 200 types. About 40 of them are spread through direct sexual contact with someone who has the virus. They can also spread through other intimate, skin-to-skin contact. Some of these types can cause cancer.
There are two categories of sexually transmitted HPV. Low-risk HPV can cause warts on or around your genitals, anus, mouth, or throat. High-risk HPV can cause various cancers:
- Cervical cancer
- Anal cancer
- Some types of oral and throat cancer
- Vulvar cancer
- Vaginal cancer
- Penile cancer
Most HPV infections go away on their own and don't cause cancer. But sometimes the infections last longer. When a high-risk HPV infection lasts for many years, it can lead to cell changes. If these changes are not treated, they may get worse over time and become cancer.
Who is at risk for HPV infections?
HPV infections are very common. Nearly all sexually active people are infected with HPV soon after they become sexually active.
What are the symptoms of HPV infections?
Some people develop warts from certain low-risk HPV infections, but the other types (including the high-risk types) have no symptoms.
If a high-risk HPV infection lasts for many years and causes cell changes, you may have symptoms. You may also have symptoms if those cell changes develop into cancer. Which symptoms you have depends on which part of the body is affected.
How are HPV infections diagnosed?
Health care providers can usually diagnose warts by looking at them.
What are the treatments for HPV infections?
An HPV infection itself cannot be treated. There are medicines that you can apply to a wart. If they don't work, your health care provide could freeze, burn, or surgically remove it.
There are treatments for the cell changes caused by infection with high-risk HPV. They include medicines that you apply to the area that is affected and various surgical procedures.
People who have HPV-related cancers usually get the same types of treatment as people who have cancers that are not caused by HPV. An exception to this is for people who have certain oral and throat cancers. They may have different treatment options.
Can HPV infections be prevented?
Correct usage of latex condoms greatly reduces, but does not completely eliminate, the risk of catching or spreading HPV. If your or your partner is allergic to latex, you can use polyurethane condoms. The most reliable way to avoid infection is to not have anal, vaginal, or oral sex.
Vaccines can protect against several types of HPV, including some that can cause cancer. The vaccines provide the most protection when people get them before they are exposed to the virus. This means that it is best for people to get them before they become sexually active.
NIH: National Cancer Institute
Prevention and Risk Factors
- HPV Cancer Prevention (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) - PDF
- HPV Vaccine Information for Young Women (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in Spanish
- Next Steps after an Abnormal Cervical Cancer Screening Test: Understanding HPV and Pap Test Results (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish
- Protecting Against HPV: Common Viruses Can Lead to Cancer (National Institutes of Health) Also in Spanish
- Vaccinating Boys and Girls (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Vaccine for HPV (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Frequently Asked Questions about HPV Vaccine Safety (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Cancers Caused by HPV (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in Spanish
- HPV and Cancer (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Oropharyngeal Cancer (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in Spanish
- Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis or Laryngeal Papillomatosis (National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders) Also in Spanish
Statistics and Research
Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
- Article: Prevalence and Distribution of Vaccine-Preventable Genital Human Papillomavirus(HPV) Genotypes in Ghanaian...
- Article: The East Africa Consortium for human papillomavirus and cervical cancer in...
- Article: Acceptability of extending HPV-based cervical screening intervals from 3 to 5...
- HPV -- see more articles
- Here's Why Your Preteen Needs the HPV Vaccine (American Academy of Pediatrics) Also in Spanish
- Vaccinating Your Preteen: Addressing Common Concerns (American Academy of Pediatrics)
- Cervical cancer -- screening and prevention (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Condom Fact Sheet in Brief (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) - PDF Also in Spanish
- HPV and Cancer (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) - PDF
- HPV DNA test (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- HPV vaccine (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Pap and HPV Testing (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish