Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a viral infection that’s passed between people through skin-to-skin contact. There are over 100 varieties of HPV, more than 40 trusted sources of which are passed through sexual contact and can affect your genitals, mouth, or throat.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). It’s so common that most sexually active people will get some variety of it at some point, even if they have few sexual partners.
Some cases of genital HPV infection may not cause any health problems. However, some types of HPV can lead to the development of genital warts and even cancers of the cervix, anus, and throat.
The virus that causes HPV infection is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. Most people get a genital HPV infection through direct sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Because HPV is a skin-to-skin infection, intercourse isn’t required for transmission to occur.
Many people have HPV and don’t even know it, which means you can still contract it even if your partner doesn’t have any symptoms. It’s also possible to have multiple types of HPV.
In rare cases, a mother who has HPV can transmit the virus to her baby during delivery. When this happens, the child may develop a condition called recurrent respiratory papillomatosis where they develop HPV-related warts inside their throat or airways.
Often, HPV infection doesn’t cause any noticeable symptoms or health problems, 90 percent of trusted sources of HPV infections (9 out of 10) go away on their own within two years, according to the CDC. However, because the virus is still in a person’s body during this time, that person may unknowingly transmit HPV.
When the virus doesn’t go away on its own, it can cause serious health problems. These include genital warts and warts in the throat (known as recurrent respiratory papillomatosis).
HPV can also cause cervical cancer and other cancers of the genitals, head, neck, and throat. The types of HPV that cause warts are different from the types that cause cancer. So, having genital warts caused by HPV doesn’t mean that you’ll develop cancer.
Cancers caused by HPV often don’t show symptoms until the cancer is in later stages of growth. Regular screenings can help diagnose HPV-related health problems earlier. This can improve outlook and increase the chances of survival.
HPV in Men
Many men that are infected with HPV have no symptoms, although some may develop genital warts. See your doctor if you notice any unusual bumps or lesions on your penis, scrotum, or anus.
Some strains of HPV can cause penile, anal, and throat cancer in men. Some men may be more at risk for developing HPV-related cancers, including men who receive anal sex and men with a weakened immune system. The strains of HPV that cause genital warts aren’t the same as those that cause cancer.
HPV in Women
It’s estimated that 80 percent of trusted sources of women will contract at least one type of HPV during their lifetime. Like with men, many women that get HPV don’t have any symptoms and the infection goes away without causing any health problems.
Some women may notice that they have genital warts, which can appear inside the vagina, in or around the anus, and on the cervix or vulva.
Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice any unexplained bumps or growths in or around your genital area.
Some strains of HPV can cause cervical cancer or cancers of the vagina, anus, or throat. Regular screening can help detect the changes associated with cervical cancer in women. Additionally, DNA tests on cervical cells can detect strains of HPV associated with genital cancers.
Updated guidelines from the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommend that women have their first Pap test, or Pap smear, at age 21, regardless of onset of sexual activity.
Regular Pap tests help to identify abnormal cells in women. These can signal cervical cancer or other HPV-related problems. Women ages 21 to 29 should have just a Pap test every three years. From ages 30 to 65, women should do one of the following:
Receive a Pap test every three years, receive an HPV test every five years; it will screen for high-risk types of HPV (hrHPV), receive both tests together every five years; this is known as co-testing. Standalone tests are preferred over co-testing, according to the USPSTF.
If you’re younger than age 30, your doctor or gynecologist may also request an HPV test if your Pap results are abnormal. There are at least 14 trains trusted Source of HPV that can lead to cancer. If you have one of these strains, your doctor may want to monitor you for cervical changes.
You may need to get a Pap test more frequently. Your doctor may also request a follow-up procedure, such as a colposcopy.
Cervical changes that lead to cancer often take many years to develop, and HPV infections often go away on their own without causing cancer. You may want to follow a course of watchful waiting instead of undergoing treatment for abnormal or precancerous cells.
It’s important to note that the HPV DNA test is only available for diagnosing HPV in women. There’s currently no FDA-approved test available for diagnosing HPV in men.
According to the CDCTrusted Source, routine screening for anal, throat, or penile cancer in men isn’t currently recommended. Some doctors may perform an anal Pap test for men that have an increased risk of developing anal cancer. This includes men who receive anal sex and men with HIV.
Most cases of HPV go away on their own, so there’s no treatment for the infection itself. Instead, your doctor will likely want to have you come in for repeat testing in a year to see if the HPV infection persists and if any cell changes have developed that need further follow-up.
Genital warts can be treated with prescription medications, burning with an electrical current, or freezing with liquid nitrogen. But, getting rid of physical warts doesn’t treat the virus itself, and the warts may return.
Precancerous cells may be removed through a short procedure that’s performed at your doctor’s office. Cancers that develop from HPV may be treated by methods such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgery. Sometimes, multiple methods may be used.
There currently aren’t any medically-supported natural treatments available for HPV infection.
Routine screening for HPV and cervical cancer is important for identifying, monitoring, and treating health problems that may result from HPV infection. Explore the treatment options for HPV.