Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection that can cause certain cancers and genital warts. About 80 percent of sexually active men and women are infected with HPV at some point in their lives and most new infections are in individuals in their teens and early 20s. Most individuals will have no symptoms and may never know they have the virus, but while infected, can spread the virus.
Although most infections go away on their own in a few years, HPV infections that do not go away can lead to cancer. HPV causes almost all cervical cancer in the US and can also cause cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, mouth, and throat.
Individuals can pass the virus on even if they have no symptoms and even if years have passed since they were first infected.
- In the US, about 79 million individuals are currently infected with HPV
- It is estimated that more than 14 million new HPV infections occur in the US each year
- Before HPV vaccines were introduced, roughly 340,000 to 360,000 women and men were affected by genital warts caused by HPV every year
- Every year, more than 12,000 women living in the US will be diagnosed and more than 4,000 women die from cervical cancer. Approximately 19,000 women and 12,000 men are affected annually by cancers caused by HPV.
Some individuals infected with HPV may not exhibit signs or symptoms.
HPV can cause 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. A healthcare professional can usually diagnose warts by examining the genital area.
Other types of HPV can lead to cancer.
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. The second dose should be given 6-12 months after the first dose.
Both males and females up to age 26 years who were not vaccinated at age 11 or 12 years should receive catch-up HPV vaccination. Three doses are recommended for those who initiate the vaccination series at or after age 15 years, and for those who have weakened immune systems (at 0, 1–2, and 6 months). HPV vaccine may be given beginning at age 9 years.
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.
There is no treatment for infection caused by the virus itself; however, there are treatments for some of the health problems that HPV can cause, such as genital warts and certain cancers. Consult with a healthcare professional on the best course of treatment.
Updated January 2021
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Infographic highlighting steps to make HPV vaccination routine
There are more than 14 million new HPV infections in the US each year and more than 80 percent of sexually active men and women will get it in their lifetime
Information and resources about HPV vaccine safety
Best practices and educational tools for increasing HPV immunization rates in preteens, teens, and young adults