Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Eighty percent of people will get an HPV infection in their lifetime.

HPV is a group of more than 150 related viruses.  Some HPV viruses lead to warts, others lead to cancer. Men and women can get cancer of the mouth/throat and anus/rectum. Men can get penile HPV cancer and women can get cervical, vaginal and vulvar HPV cancers.  HPV vaccine can prevent the HPV infections that most commonly cause cancer.

HPV is spread through skin to skin contact.  You can get HPV by having vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who has the virus.  Similar to other STIs, it can be transmitted when the person who is infected has no symptoms.  Symptoms may develop years after exposure.  This can make it difficult to know when you first became infected.


You can have HPV and have no symptoms.

Warts appear as a small bump or group of bumps in the genital area.  The size and shape can vary (small, large, raised, flat or shaped like a cauliflower).  Your healthcare provider can likely diagnose by examining the area.

The HPV viruses that cause cancer do not show any symptoms until it is advanced, very serious and difficult to treat.


Cervical cancer screening can help find early stages of disease so that it can be treated early, before it turns into cancer.  Screening is important since symptoms do not appear for HPV cancer until it is advanced and difficult to treat.

Unfortunately, there is not a screening test to detect the HPV viruses that cause the other types of HPV cancer including: mouth, throat, anus and rectum.


In the majority of cases, HPV resolves on its own, without treatment, and does not cause any health problems.  When it does not resolve on its own, health problems like warts and cancer can appear.

Genital warts can increase in number, stay the same or go away on their own.  When they appear, warts can be treated.

Abnormal cervical cells (found on a pap smear) often become normal over time.  Follow your health care provider’s recommendations regarding routine and follow up pap smears.  If the cells remain abnormal, your health care provider may be able to treat them to prevent cervical cancer from developing.

Cervical cancer is treatable.  When diagnosed and treated early, this is the best outcome. Women who get routine cervical cancer screenings and follow up as ordered by their health care provider are more likely to find problems before cancer even develops.

Recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP) is a rare condition when warts grow in the throat.  Surgery and medications can be used to treat RRP.  It can take multiple treatments or surgeries to treat RRP and treatment can last over a period of years.

Source: CDC