Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Straight to the Facts: HPV

  • Caused by sexual contact with an infected person

  • Strains that cause genital warts DO NOT cause cancer

    • Symptoms include warts, but may not have symptoms

  • Strains that cause cancer DO NOT cause genital warts

    • This strain does not cause visible symptoms

  • The only way to test is to have warts or an abnormal pap smear

    • There is no test in men for the strain causing cancer, your female partner must get tested for you to know

  • Warts can be treated by your doctor

  • Women should get regular pap smears to screen for HPV

Because HPV often does not cause symptoms, it is impossible to tell when or how you got infected. HPV symptoms may take years to show up and the vast majority of people never show any symptoms at all.  It is possible for a person to carry HPV for many years and have no symptoms or you may start growing warts within a couple of weeks. If you are in a monogamous relationship and one of you finds out that you have HPV, don't panic! You may have gotten the virus before you two met and never knew about it until now. Suddenly testing positive for HPV does not mean your partner is cheating on you.

HPV is a viral STI caused by the Human Papillomavirus. There are many different types of HPV and it is the most common STI. Nearly 80 million people in the US have HPV. That is almost 1 in 4! Almost everyone will be infected by some type of HPV during their lifetime.


There are many different types of HPV. Some strains cause genital warts and some strains are more dangerous and may lead to cancer.  HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact. For example, touching people's warts or having sex with someone with genital warts. The strains that cause cancer are also spread by having sex with someone who has it, but they may not have any visible signs that they have it since the strains that cause cancer do not cause genital warts.

The CDC recommends that everyone get vaccinated for HPV around age 11 or 12, including both boys and girls.

How Do I know I have it?


Currently, the only way to know you have HPV is if you or your female partner has an abnormal pap smear. There are screening tests that can be used to identify women with HPV, but they are only recommended for women over 30. HPV screens are not recommended for men, boys, adolescents or women under 30. So, there is no test to find out a person’s “HPV status.” There is also no approved HPV test to find HPV in the mouth or throat. Most of the time, HPV does not cause symptoms and most people never develop health problems. If you have a strain that causes genital warts, you usually find out because you start developing 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 provider can usually diagnose warts by looking at the genital area.


How can I get it?

HPV can be passed even when you do not know you have it. It can be spread by vaginal, anal and even oral sex. Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV, even if your current boyfriend or girlfriend is the only person you have had sex with. You also can develop symptoms years after you have sex with someone who is infected which makes it hard to know when you first became infected.

How can I get treated?


In most cases, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. You may not even know you have it. There is no treatment for the virus itself. However, there are treatments for the health problems that HPV can cause:

  1. Genital warts can be treated by you or your physician. If left untreated, genital warts may go away, stay the same, or grow in size or number.  A health care provider can usually diagnosis warts by looking at the genital area.

  2. Cervical pre-cancer can be treated. Problems can be identified before cancer develops with women who get routine Pap tests and follow up as needed. Prevention is always better than treatment. For more information visit

  3. Other HPV-related cancers are also more treatable when diagnosed and treated early. For more information visit


What happens if I do not get treated?


Most people clear an HPV infection on their own within 2 years and never develop symptoms. However, a small number of people will not clear the infection and may develop serious health complications. If you skip your Pap smears and have HPV, you could be at risk for developing certain types of cancer of the vulva, cervix, and vagina. Having HPV can also lead to cancers of the penis, anus, and even throat and tongue. 


Genital warts, if left untreated, can lead to large and painful growths. In those stages of genital warts, it is usually recommended to have them surgically removed. 


What if I am pregnant?


The CDC does not recommend that pregnant women get screened for HPV specifically during their pregnancy. However, if you are pregnant and have HPV, it is possible for you to develop new genital warts or for you to develop changes in the cells of your cervix which might be indicative of cancer. So, it is important for you to continue to get regular cervical cancer screens during your pregnancy. ​HPV infections are not associated with birth complications or defects and the chances of spreading HPV to your baby are considered low.

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