- Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name of a group of viruses that infect the skin.
- 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 that can lead to cervical cancer.
- HPV is very common. Most sexually active people will be infected with HPV at some point.
There are over 100 different types of human papillomavirus, or HPV. Some types of HPV can cause genital warts and other types can cause cancer, especially cervical cancer. These types of HPV are sexually transmitted.
The “high-risk” HPV types that cause cell changes to the cervix can, if not found, increase a woman’s chance of developing cervical cancer. The “low-risk” types that cause genital warts are almost never found with cervical cancers.
HPV can also cause cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis or anus, as well as cancer in the back of the throat. But most HPV infections do not cause symptoms that are noticeable—so most people will never know they have the virus.
Most Sexually Active People will Get HPV
HPV is a very common STD, and nearly all sexually active people will contract it at some point in their lives. About 79 million people are thought to have an active HPV infection at any given time.
How is HPV spread?
HPV is spread by direct, skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal or (possibly) oral sex with someone who has an infection. HPV can infect anyone who has ever had a sexual encounter.
HPV can be contracted from one partner, remain dormant (or “asleep”), and then later be unknowingly transmitted to another sexual partner, including a spouse.
Since HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact and not through the exchange of bodily fluids, condoms can reduce–but not totally eliminate–the risk of HPV transmission.
Is HPV dangerous?
In most cases, the virus is harmless and most people have no symptoms. The body clears most HPV infections naturally.
Certain high-risk strains of HPV cause cervical lesions that, over a period of time, can develop into cancer if untreated.
HPV and Cancer Fast Facts
- More than 13,000 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.
- You can screen (or check) for cervical cancer with a Pap test and/or an HPV test. Ask your healthcare provider which tests are right for you, based on your age and medical history.
- Regular screening 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.
- High-risk HPV types are also linked to head and neck cancer (these cancers are uncommon, however).
- Thirty percent of oral cancers is related to HPV. It is commonly seen in ages 20-39
- The risk of contracting oropharayngeal cancer (cancer of the tonsils, back of throat or base of the tongue) heightens 3.4 times with 6 or more oral sex partners
ASHA’s National HPV and Cervical Cancer Prevention Resource Center is dedicated to addressing the multiple issues and challenges associated with HPV and cervical cancer prevention in the United States. The resource center is here for you!
- Accurate and up-to-date information about HPV and cervical cancer prevention and related issues such as screening, self-esteem, partners, and transmission.
- Source for referrals such as local HPV support groups.
- Voice to increase the awareness of HPV and cervical cancer prevention through the mass media.
- Home of the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC), dedicated to helping women, family members and caregivers battle the personal issues related to cervical cancer.