What is human papillomavirus (hpv)?

Human papillomavirus (HPV): Overview

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common virus. There are many types of HPV. Some types cause the common skin wart. Other types cause genital warts, which can be spread by sexual contact. Some types can increase the risk of certain cancers, such as cervical or anal cancer. Having one type of HPV doesn't lead to having another type.

Many people who have HPV don't know that they're infected. It's often found with a cervical cancer screening test, such as an HPV test.

If an HPV screening test finds that you have a type of HPV that might lead to cancer, your doctor may suggest more tests. This doesn't mean you'll get cancer. But it means that you may have an increased risk. Abnormal cell changes caused by HPV often go away on their own. If they don't, they can be treated.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

The human papillomavirus (HPV) may cause warts, including genital warts, and may cause cervical cancer and changes in the cervix that can lead to cancer. Other types of HPV can cause oral cancer and some other cancers, such as vaginal and anal cancer. HPV is spread by direct contact.

What happens when you have human papillomavirus (HPV)?

There are many types of HPV. Some types cause common skin warts. Other types cause genital warts. Some types can cause abnormal cell changes that increase the risk for certain cancers, like cervical or anal cancer. Abnormal cell changes caused by HPV often go away on their own. If they don't, they can be treated.

What are the symptoms of human papillomavirus (HPV)?

Most people with HPV don't have symptoms. If you do, the symptoms may be so mild that you don't notice them. Symptoms may include pain, itching, and bleeding, or you may develop visible genital warts.

What are the types of human papillomavirus (HPV)?

There are many different types of HPV. Some types cause genital warts and are called low-risk. Some types can lead to cervical, anal, or mouth (oral) cancer and are called high-risk. Other types of HPV cause common, plantar, and filiform or flat warts.

  • Common HPV types, such as 6 and 11, produce warts that can be seen. These warts may go away on their own, stay the same, or increase in number.
  • Other HPV types, such as 16 and 18, don't produce warts that can be seen. These types, which may be found with cervical cancer screening tests, are linked to precancerous cervical cell changes and cervical cancer.

How is human papillomavirus (HPV) treated?

Not everyone with HPV needs treatment.

  • Abnormal cell changes on the cervix caused by HPV often go away on their own. If not, your doctor may remove the abnormal cells.
  • Warts caused by HPV may be treated with medicines or removed. But warts may come back because treatment doesn't kill the HPV infection.

How is human papillomavirus (HPV) diagnosed?

The doctor will ask about your past health and risk factors for infection and do a physical exam. But not all HPV infections cause visible genital warts. This can make it hard to diagnose the infection. If warts can be seen, your doctor may take a sample of tissue from a wart for testing.

How can you care for yourself when you have human papillomavirus (HPV)?

  • Use a condom every time you have sex. Use it from the start to the end of sexual contact.
  • Be sure to tell your sexual partner or partners that you have HPV. Even if you don't have symptoms, you can still pass HPV to others.
  • Limit how many sex partners you have. The safest practice is to have only one sex partner who doesn't have STIs and doesn't have sex with anyone else. This lowers your risk of getting STIs.
  • Don't smoke. Smoking increases the risk for cervical problems and cervical cancer. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.

What health problems can be caused by human papillomavirus (HPV)?

Some high-risk types of HPV can raise your risk for certain types of cancer. These include:

  • Cervical cancer. Most precancerous or cancerous changes on the cervix are linked to HPV infection. Cervical cells can become abnormal when they're infected with HPV. It's important to have regular screening tests for cervical cancer. If your screening test finds HPV infection, this doesn't mean you'll get cancer. But it means that you may have an increased risk.
  • Cancer of the penis.
  • Anal cancer.
  • Oral or head and neck cancers.

Some common types of HPV can cause genital warts. Genital warts often go away on their own without treatment. But if they bother you, they can be treated.

What is human papillomavirus (HPV)?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It is a virus that can be spread through skin-to-skin genital contact. There are many different types of HPV. Some types cause genital warts and are called low-risk. And some types can lead to cervical, anal, or mouth (oral) cancer and are called high-risk. Other types of HPV cause common, plantar, and filiform or flat warts. These types of warts are not cancerous.

There is no known cure for HPV, but there is a vaccine that can help protect against some types of the virus.

Human papillomavirus (HPV): When to call

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have vaginal pain during or after sex.
  • You have vaginal bleeding when you are not in your menstrual period.

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