Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that causes infections which can lead to genitals warts and cancer in both females and males.
There is a vaccine available that can prevent these infections if it is administered before there is any risk for exposure to the virus.
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What is human papillomavirus (HPV) infection?
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States. About 79 million people in the U.S. have HPV infection and another 14 million get HPV each year. Nearly half of these new infections occur among teens and young adults aged 15 to 24. HPV infection can cause genital warts and can lead to cancer many years later, making the need for early prevention that much more important.
Who get HPV infection?
- Anyone can get HPV once they become sexually active.
- Most people are infected around the time they first become sexually active.
- Most sexually active people get HPV infection at some time in their lives, even if they only have one lifetime sexual partner.
How is HPV spread?
- HPV is spread through direct contact with an infected person, most often from vaginal or anal sex but also from oral sex or genital-to-genital contact.
- HPV can be spread even when the person has no symptoms.
Are there symptoms of HPV infection?
- Most people have no symptoms of HPV infection.
- Some people with HPV may develop genital warts. (About 360,000 people get genital warts each year.)
- HPV infections that cause cancer may not become apparent until many years later and may not show symptoms until the cancer is advanced.
What types of cancer are caused by HPV infection?
- Each year, there are approximately 33,200 HPV-associated cancers in the U.S. - about 20,600 women and 12,600 men.
- Cervical cancer is the most common HPV-associated cancer among women. Each year, about 12,000 women are diagnosed in the U.S., and about 4,00 die from the disease.
- HPV infection in women can also to lead to anal, oropharyngeal, vulvar, and vaginal cancer.
- Among men, HPV-associated cancers include anal and oropharyngeal (back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils) cancer, which are the most common, as well as penile cancer.
How is HPV infection treated?
There is no treatment for the virus itself. Although the body's immune system clears HPV on its own within two years in about 90% of infections, it is impossible to know which infections will persist and go on to cause health problems.
There are treatments for the diseases that HPV can cause:
- Genital warts can be removed by prescribed medications applied by the patient him or herself or by a health care professional. Some warts can also disappear on their own.
- HPV-related cancers are most treatable when they are diagnosed and treated early. Women should have routine cervical Pap testing. Certain people at high-risk for anal cancer may need routine anal Pap tests. Talk with your primary care provider about your risk and whether you should get tested.
How can HPV infection be prevented?
The best way to prevent HPV is with a vaccine. Pre-teens, teens, and young adults should get the vaccine before they become sexually active. HPV vaccine works best on those before risk of exposure.
There are now three FDA-licensed HPV vaccines (Cervarix, Gardasil, and Gardasil9) which can be used to protect girls and women against HPV types that cause most cervical cancers. Gardasil and Gardasil9 vaccines are also licensed for use in boys and men and they protects against most genital warts and anal cancers in both women and men.
If you choose to be sexually active, condoms also help to prevent the spread of HPV. However, HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom - so condoms may not completely protect against HPV.