Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of more than 100 viruses that are usually spread through sexual contact. HPV infection is extremely common; it is estimated that there are more than 14 million new infections in the US each year and more than 80 percent of sexually active men and women will be infected in their lifetime. Most new infections occur in teens and young adults. HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer and can also cause cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, mouth, and throat. The virus also causes genital warts. The most common type of cancer currently caused by HPV is oropharyngeal (throat) cancer, more common in men. Individuals can spread the virus even if they have no symptoms and even if years have passed since they were first infected.
Symptoms of HPV Infection
Most individuals infected with HPV have no symptoms and will clear the virus within a few years. However, some will get visible genital warts that are usually soft, moist, pink, or fleshy colored swellings. The warts can be removed by medications or other treatments. They may also resolve without treatment. In either case, disappearance of the warts does not mean the virus has left the body.
Certain types of HPV are associated with an increased risk of cervical cancer. Often, the first indication a woman gets that she is infected with HPV may be abnormal Pap test results.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 11- to 12-year-olds get two doses of HPV vaccine to protect against cancers caused by HPV. Both males and females up to age 26 years who were not adequately vaccinated should receive catch-up HPV vaccination.
Adults age 27-45 years should talk to a healthcare professional about whether HPV vaccination is right for them. Shared clinical decision-making is recommended because some individuals who are not adequately vaccinated might benefit from vaccination.
HPV Disease and Vaccine Facts
- FACT: In addition to cervical cancer, HPV can cause penile, anal, mouth, and throat cancers
- FACT: HPV infection is very common and there are an estimated 14 million new cases in the US annually
- FACT: HPV vaccine can help protect against oropharyngeal (throat) cancer, which is more common in men
- FACT: Most women find out the are infected with HPV through abnormal Pap test results; a Pap test is the primary tool used to detect cervical cancer or pre-cancerous changes in the cervix
- FACT: Most HPV infections occur without symptoms and resolve on their own in healthy, non-immunosuppressed individuals
- FACT: HPV is spread through genital or skin-to-skin contact and the virus can be spread even when no symptoms (e.g., genital warts) are evident
- FACT: Individuals infected with HPV should still get vaccinated because the vaccine may protect against additional HPV strains; however, for maximum benefit, vaccination should occur before an individual becomes sexually active and exposed to the virus
- FACT: HPV vaccines do not treat HPV infection and there is currently no cure for HPV infection
- FACT: Vaccinated women should continue to get regularly scheduled Pap screenings because the vaccine does not protect against all HPV types
For more information, speak with a healthcare professional.
Updated January 2021
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention