Overview and Fast Facts

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Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name of a group of viruses that infect the skin. There are more than 100 different types of HPV. Certain types of HPV cause warts on the hands or feet, and other types can cause warts on the genitals. Some types of genital HPV may cause genital warts, while other types of genital HPV are linked to abnormal cell changes on the cervix (detected through Pap tests) that can lead to cervical cancer. However, this cancer can almost always be prevented through regular screening and, if needed, treatment of abnormal cell changes.

Approximately 14 million new cases of sexually transmitted HPV occur in the U.S. each year, with at least 79 million people estimated to be currently infected. Most people with HPV, though, do not know that they are infected.

Fast Facts

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) is an extremely common STD, with an estimated 80 percent of sexually active people contracting it at some point in their lives; 14 million new infections occur yearly in the United States. About 79 million people -- men and women -- are thought to have an active HPV infection at any given time.
  • HPV can infect anyone who has ever had a sexual encounter.
  • HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact, not through an exchange of bodily fluid.
  • In most cases, the virus is harmless and most people have no symptoms. The body clears most HPV infections naturally.
  • HPV can be contracted from one partner, remain dormant, and then later be unknowingly transmitted to another sexual partner, including a spouse.
  • Though usually harmless, some types cause cervical cancer if not detected in time. The majority of women with an HPV infection will not develop cervical cancer, but regular screening is crucial.
  • Certain high-risk strains of HPV cause cervical lesions that, over a period of time, can develop into cancer if untreated.
  • About 11,000 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year. Over 4,000 women die of cervical cancer each year in the United States.
  • Cervical cancer most commonly takes 10 years to 20 years or more to develop; women who are no longer sexually active should continue to be screened.
  • Cervical cancer is the first cancer in women to be identified as being caused almost exclusively by a virus.
  • If an HPV infection is persistent past the age of 30, there is a greater risk of developing cervical cancer.
  • The best way to screen for cervical cancer is a Pap test, which may be done alone or, for women age 30 and older, in combination with an HPV DNA test.
  • Regular Pap tests, supplemented by HPV testing, will detect virtually all pre-cancerous changes and cervical cancers.
  • Cervical cancer is completely preventable if precancerous cell changes are detected and treated early, before cervical cancer develops.
  • Latex condoms can reduce--but not totally eliminate--the risk of HPV transmission.
  • HPV strands 16 and 18 are linked to head and neck cancer.
  • Thirty percent of oral carcinoma is related to HPV. It is commonly seen in ages 20-39
  • The risk of contracting oropharayngeal caner (cancer of the tonsils, back of throat or base of the tongue) heightens 3.4 times with 6 or more oral sex partners
  • The survival rate for those with HPV-positive head and neck tumors is 85% in non-smoking people. The survival rate drops down to 45-50% for smokers.