Human papillomavirus,(pap-uh-LOH-muh-veye-ruhss) or HPV, is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States. About 80% of women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lifetime.1 It is usually spread through vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Many women do not know they have HPV, because it usually has no symptoms and usually goes away on its own. Some types of HPV can cause illnesses such as genital warts or cervical cancer. There is a vaccine to help you prevent HPV.
HPV is the name for a group of viruses that includes more than 100 types. More than 40 types of HPV can be passed through sexual contact. The types that infect the genital area are called genital HPV.
HPV is spread through:
Most people with HPV do not have any symptoms. This is one reason why women need regular Pap tests. Experts recommend that you get your first Pap test at age 21.3 The Pap test can find changes on the cervix caused by HPV. If you are a woman between ages 30 and 65, your doctor might also do an HPV test with your Pap test every five years. This is a DNA test that detects most types of HPV.
Another way to tell if you have an HPV infection is if you have genital warts. 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. Doctors can usually diagnose warts by looking at the genital area.
HPV usually goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. But when HPV does not go away, it can cause health problems including:
HPV does not affect your chances of getting pregnant, but it may cause problems during pregnancy.
Some possible problems during pregnancy include:
No, HPV has no cure. Most often, HPV goes away on its own. If HPV does not go away on its own, there are treatments for the genital warts and cervical cell changes caused by HPV.
There are two ways to prevent HPV. One way is get an HPV vaccine. The other way to prevent HPV or any STI is to not have sexual contact with another person.
If you do have sex, lower your risk of getting an STI with the following steps:
The steps work best when used together. No single step can protect you from every single type of STI.
The HPV vaccine prevents cervical cancer in women. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the HPV vaccine to prevent HPV and related diseases, including cervical cancer.
Experts recommend the HPV vaccine for 11 or 12 year olds. The HPV vaccine works best when you get it before you have any type of sexual contact with anyone else. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the HPV vaccine for girls and women from 9 through 26.
If you are 26 or younger and never had the HPV vaccine, or did not get all of the HPV shots, ask your doctor or nurse about getting vaccinated.
The HPV vaccine is given in two or three doses, over a 6 to 12-month period. Spacing out the HPV shots helps your immune system develop the antibodies against HPV. The schedule for HPV vaccine shots depend on the age and health history of the person getting it.5
Talk to your doctor to find out if getting vaccinated is recommended for you based on your age and health history.
Yes. You can still benefit from the HPV vaccine if you have already had sexual contact. The vaccine can protect you from HPV types you haven't gotten yet. However, the vaccine is recommended for most people only if you are 26 years old or younger.
Yes. The vaccine does not replace or decrease the need to wear condoms. Using condoms lowers your risk of getting other types of HPV and other STIs.
Yes. There are three reasons why:
Yes. You can have HPV but still have a normal Pap test. Changes on your cervix might not show up right away; or they might never appear. For women 30 years and older who get an HPV test and a Pap test, a negative result on both the Pap and HPV tests means no cervical changes or HPV were found on the cervix. This means you have a very low chance of developing cervical cancer in the next few years.
Yes. There are many types of HPV, so you can get it again.
Yes. It is possible to get HPV, or any other STI, if you are a woman who has sex only with women.
Talk to your partner about her sexual history before having sex, and ask your doctor about getting tested if you have symptoms of HPV.
For more information about HPV, call the OWH Helpline at 800-994-9662 or contact the following organizations:
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Page last updated: April 28, 2017.
Content last reviewed: March 23, 2017.