HPV fact sheet

What is HPV?

HPV, also known as the human papillomavirus, is the most common sexually transmitted infection. HPV is passed on through direct skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. There are more than 40 types of HPV that can infect both males and females. Some of these types can cause genital warts, while the more serious types of HPV (high-risk HPV types) can cause cancer.

In the high-risk types of HPV, normal cells may become abnormal and begin to reproduce at a higher rate, which can lead to cancer. HPV does not differentiate between straight or same-sex partners, and even when the person shows no signs or symptoms of HPV, the virus can be passed from one person to another.

HPV and cervical cancer

Cancer is a disease in which cells within the body begin to grow uncontrollably. Cervical cancer starts in the cervix, which is the lower end of the uterus. When cervical cancer is found early, it is a highly treatable disease that is associated with a long survival and a good quality of life.

Most forms of HPV are low risk and do not cause cancer. HPV types 6 and 11 cause 90 percent of genital warts and are non-cancer causing. HPV types 16 and 18 are responsible for the majority of HPV-caused cancers and account for approximately 5 percent of cancers worldwide.

While cervical cancer is the main concern with HPV, the infection is also known to cause oral, anal, vulvar, vaginal, and penile cancers. It is good to know, however, that transmission of HPV can be prevented; research has shown that abstinence, vaccination, and correct and consistent use of condoms can reduce the transmission of HPV between sexual partners.

HPV vaccine

While three vaccines have been approved for use by the FDA for prevention of HPV, beginning in 2017, Gardisil9 is the only HPV vaccine available in the U.S.

Gardisil is used for the prevention of cervical, anal, vulvar, and vaginal cancer, as well as precancerous lesions and genital warts. Gardisil helps to prevent four different types of cancer in young men and women ages 9 to 26 years. Gardisil is given as a series of two to three injections over a period of six months. It is important to note that Gardisil does not prevent all types of cervical cancer, and it is still important for women to have routine cervical screenings in order to detect any cancer in its earliest form. The best time to vaccinate is before any exposure to HPV.

Last reviewed: 
June 2018

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