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HPV (human papillomavirus)

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HPV (human papillomavirus) is a sexually transmitted virus. It is passed on through genital contact (such as vaginal and anal sex). It is also passed on by skin-to-skin contact. At least 50% of people who have had sex will have HPV at some time in their lives. HPV is not a new virus. But many people don't know about it. Most people don't have any signs. HPV may go away on its own-- without causing any health problems.

Who can get HPV?

Anyone who has ever had genital contact with another person may have HPV. Both men and women may get it -- and pass it on-- without knowing it. Since there might not be any signs, a person may have HPV even if years have passed since he or she had sex.

You are more likely to get HPV if you have:

  • sex at an early age,
  • many sex partners, or
  • a sex partner who has had many partners.

If there are no signs, why do I need to worry about HPV?

There are over 100 different kinds of HPV and not all of them cause health problems. Some kinds of HPV may cause problems like genital warts. Some kinds of HPV can also cause cancer of the cervix, vagina, vulva, or anus. Most of these problems are caused by types 6, 11, 16 or 18.

Is there a test for HPV?

Yes. It tests for the kinds of HPV that may lead to cervical cancer. The FDA approved the HPV test to be used for women over 30 years old. It may find HPV even before there are changes to the cervix. Women who have the HPV test still need to get the Pap test.

Can I prevent HPV?

FDA has approved vaccines that prevent certain diseases, including cervical cancer, caused by some types of HPV. Ask your doctor if you should get the HPV Vaccine.

What else can I do to lower my chances of getting HPV?

  • You can choose not to have sex (abstinence).
  • If you have sex, you can limit the number of partners you have.
  • Choose a partner who has had no or few sex partners. The fewer partners your partner has had -- the less likely he or she is to have HPV.
  • It is not known how much condoms protect against HPV. Areas not covered by a condom can be exposed to the virus.

Is there a cure for HPV?

There is no cure for the virus (HPV) itself. There are treatments for the health problems that HPV can cause, such as genital warts, cervical changes, and cervical cancer.

What should I know about genital warts?

There are many treatment choices for genital warts. But even after the warts are treated, the virus might still be there and may be passed on to others. If genital warts are not treated they may go away, stay the same, or increase in size or number, but they will not turn into cancer.

HPV and Cancer

What should I know about cervical cancer?

All women should get regular Pap tests. The Pap test looks for cell changes caused by HPV. The test finds cell changes early -- so the cervix can be treated before the cells turn into cancer. This test can also find cancer in its early stages so it can be treated before it becomes too serious. It is rare to die from cervical cancer if the disease is caught early.

What should I know about vaginal or vulvar cancer?

Vaginal cancer is cancer of the vagina (birth canal). Vulvar cancer is cancer of the clitoris, vaginal lips, and opening to the vagina. Both of these kinds of cancer are very rare. Not all vaginal or vulvar cancer is caused by HPV.

What should I know about anal cancer?

Anal cancer is cancer that forms in tissues of the anus. The anus is the opening of the rectum (last part of the large intestine) to the outside of the body.

To Learn More About HPV

Page Last Updated: 12/03/2014
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