- Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection. About 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. About 14 million people become newly infected each year. Nearly all sexually active people will get human papillomavirus (HPV) at some time in their life if they don’t get the HPV vaccine. Although most HPV infections go away on their own without causing problems, HPV can cause genital warts, or cancer. Getting vaccinated against HPV can help prevent these health problems.
Can HPV be cured?
There is no treatment for the virus itself. However, there are treatments for the health problems that HPV can cause:
- Genital warts can be treated by your healthcare provider or with prescription medication. If left untreated, genital warts may go away, stay the same, or grow in size or number
- Cervical precancer can be treated. Women who get routine Pap tests and follow up as needed can identify problems before cancer develops. Prevention is always better than treatment. For more information visit www.cancer.org
- Other HPV-related cancers are also more treatable when diagnosed and treated early. For more information visit www.cancer.org
What is HPV?
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). Usually late teens and early 20s, are infected with HPV. HPV virus that can be spread from one person to another person through anal, vaginal, or oral sex, or through other close skin-to-skin touching during sexual activity. 79 million Americans, most in their late teens and early 20s, are infected with HPV. Nearly all sexually active people who do not get the HPV vaccine get infected with HPV at some point in their lives. It is important to understand that getting HPV is not the same thing as getting HIV or HSV (herpes).
How do I get HPV?
You can get HPV by having sex with someone who is infected with HPV. This disease is spread easily during anal or vaginal sex, and it can also be spread through oral sex or other close skin-to-skin touching during sex. HPV can be spread even when an infected person has no visible signs or symptoms
Can I get tested for HPV?
No, there is currently no approved test for HPV in men. Routine testing (also called ‘screening’) to check for HPV or HPV-related disease before there are signs or symptom, is not recommended by the CDC for anal, penile, or throat cancers in men in the United States. However, some healthcare providers do offer anal Pap tests to men who may be at increased risk for anal cancer, including men with HIV or men who receive anal sex.
If you have symptoms and are concerned about cancer, please see a healthcare provider
Will HPV cause health problems for me?
Most HPV infections go away on their own and don’t cause any health problems. However, if an infection does not go away, it is possible to develop HPV symptoms months or years after getting infected. This makes it hard to know exactly when you became infected. Lasting HPV infection can cause genital warts or certain kinds of cancer. It is not known why some people develop health problems from HPV and others do not.
What are the symptoms of HPV?
Most people with HPV do not know they are infected and never develop symptoms or health problems from it. Some people find out they have HPV when they get genital warts.
Men with symptoms may notice:
- Most men who get HPV never develop symptoms and the infection usually goes away completely by itself. However, if HPV does not go away, it can cause genital warts or certain kinds of cancer. See your healthcare provider if you have questions about anything new or unusual such as warts, or unusual growths, lumps, or sores on your penis, scrotum, anus, mouth, or throat
Women with symptoms may notice:
- Women may find out they have HPV when they get an abnormal Pap test result (during cervical cancer screening). Others may only find out once they’ve developed more serious problems from HPV, such as cancers
There is no test to find out a person’s “HPV status.” Also, there is no approved HPV test to find HPV in the mouth or throat. There are HPV tests that can be used to screen for cervical cancer. These tests are only recommended for screening in women aged 30 years and older. HPV tests are not recommended to screen men, adolescents, or women under the age of 30 years.
Live and let live
How is HPV spread?
You can get HPV by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus. It is most commonly spread during vaginal or anal sex.
HPV can be passed even when an infected person has no signs or symptoms. Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV, even if you have had sex with only one person. You also can develop symptoms years after you have sex with someone who is infected. This makes it hard to know when you first became infected.
- Genital warts usually appear as a small bump or group of bumps in the genital area. They can be small or large, raised or flat, or shaped like a cauliflower. A healthcare provider can usually diagnose warts by looking at the genital area
- Genital warts can come back, even after treatment. The types of HPV that cause warts do not cause cancer
- Before HPV vaccines were introduced, roughly 340,000 to 360,000 women and men were affected by genital warts caused by HPV every year. Also, about one in 100 sexually active adults in the U.S. has genital warts at any given time.
*These figures only look at the number of people who sought care for genital warts. This could be an underestimate of the actual number of people who get genital warts
- Every year, nearly 12,000 women living in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cervical cancer, and more than 4,000 women die from cervical cancer—even with screening and treatment. There are other conditions and cancers caused by HPV that occur in people living in the United States. Every year, approximately 19,400 women and 12,100 men are affected by cancers caused by HPV
Does HPV cause cancer?
HPV can cause cervical and other cancers including cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. It can also cause cancer in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (called oropharyngeal cancer). Cancer often takes years, even decades, to develop after a person gets HPV.
The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the types of HPV that can cause cancers. There is no way to know which people who have HPV will develop cancer or other health problems.
People with weak immune systems (including those with HIV/AIDS) may be less able to fight off HPV. They may also be more likely to develop health problems from HPV.
Can HPV cause cancer?
Yes. HPV itself isn’t cancer but it can cause changes in the body that lead to cancer. HPV infections usually go away by themselves but, when they don’t, they can cause certain kinds of cancer to develop. These include cervical cancer in women, penile cancer in men, and anal cancer in both women and men.
HPV can also cause cancer in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (called oropharyngeal cancer).
All of these cancers are caused by HPV infections that did not go away. Cancer develops very slowly and may not be diagnosed until years, or even decades, after a person first gets infected with HPV. Currently, there is no way to know who will have only a temporary HPV infection, and who will develop cancer after getting HPV.
Although HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, HPV-related cancers are not common in men. Certain men are more likely to develop HPV-related cancers. Men with weak immune systems (including those with HIV) who get infected with HPV are more likely to develop HPV-related health problems. Men who receive anal sex are more likely to get anal HPV and develop anal cancer.
Can I get treated for HPV or health problems caused by HPV?
There is no specific treatment for HPV, but there are treatments for health problems caused by HPV. Genital warts can be treated by your healthcare provider, or with prescription medication. HPV-related cancers are more treatable when diagnosed and treated promptly.
How can I lower my chance of getting HPV?
There are two steps you can take to lower your chances of getting HPV and HPV-related diseases:
- Get vaccinated.
The HPV vaccine is safe and effective. It can protect men against warts and certain cancers caused by HPV. Ideally, you should get vaccinated before ever having sex:
11 to 12 year olds are recommended to get two doses of HPV vaccine to protect against cancers caused by HPV.
Older boys and men through age 21 years, if they did not get vaccinated when they were younge
Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men through age 26 years, if they did not get vaccinated when they were younger
Men with HIV or weakened immune systems through age 26 years, if they did not get vaccinated when they were younger
- Use condoms the correct way every time you have sex. This can lower your chances of getting all STIs, including HPV. However, HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom, so condoms may not give full protection against getting HPV.
What does having HPV mean for me or my sex partner’s health?
See a healthcare provider if you have questions about anything new or unusual (such as warts, growths, lumps, or sores) on your own or your partner’s penis, scrotum, anus, mouth or throat.
Even if you are healthy, you and your sex partner(s) may also want to get checked by a healthcare provider for other STIs. If you or your partner have genital warts, you should avoid having sex until the warts are gone or removed. However, it is not known how long a person is able to spread HPV after warts are gone.
What does HPV mean for my relationship?
HPV infections are usually temporary. A person may have had HPV for many years before it causes health problems. If you or your partner are diagnosed with an HPV-related disease, there is no way to know how long you have had HPV, whether your partner gave you HPV, or whether you gave HPV to your partner.
HPV is not necessarily a sign that one of you is having sex outside of your relationship. It is important that sex partners discuss their sexual health and risk for all STIs, with each other.
I’m pregnant.Will having HPV affect my pregnancy?
If you are pregnant and have HPV, you can get genital warts or develop abnormal cell changes on your cervix. Abnormal cell changes can be found with routine cervical cancer screening. You should get routine cervical cancer screening even when you are pregnant.