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HPV FAQs

On this page, we answer some common questions about HPV. 

HPV is a common virus that is passed on through skin-to-skin contact. There are over 200 types of HPV.

No. Most HPV types infect the skin and some cause warts that commonly appear on the hands and feet.

Around 40 HPV types affect the genital area. Around 13 of these HPV types can cause cancer. These types are called high-risk HPV. High-risk HPV can cause cancer of the cervix, vagina, anus, vulva, penis, and some head and neck cancers.

High-risk HPV includes types 16, 18, 31, 33, 35, 39, 45, 51, 52, 56, 58, 59 and 68. Types 16 and 18 cause 70% of all cervical cancers.

HPV is passed is on through skin-to-skin contact. For genital HPV, this includes:

  • vaginal, anal and oral sex
  • touching in the genital area
  • sharing sex toys.

You are at risk of getting HPV from your first sexual contact. That means if you have ever been sexually active, you are at risk of having HPV.

Read more about how people get HPV >

Most of us get rid of HPV thanks to our immune systems.

For those of us who can’t get rid of HPV, going for cervical screening when invited can find cell changes (abnormal cells) early, before cancer develops. If needed, cell changes can be treated and, in most cases, this is successful.

For a small number of women and people with a cervix, cell changes happen more quickly between cervical screening appointments or, rarely, cell changes are not found by cervical screening.

Read more about HPV >

No. Having genital warts may be worrying or unpleasant, but it not does mean you are more likely to develop cervical cancer.

Genital warts and cervical cancer are caused by different types of HPV, so having genital warts does not mean that you are more likely to get cancer. There are over 200 types of HPV and most of them do not cause any health problems. The HPV types that cause genital warts (6 and 11) are called low risk because they aren’t linked to cancer.

Read more about genital warts >

If you have been diagnosed with cervical cancer, you have an increased risk of developing another cancer linked to high-risk HPV. This can be upsetting or worrying, but we currently do not have much data on how big this risk is. If you need support or have questions, speak with your doctor or call our Helpline on 0808 802 8000.

Read more about other HPV-related cancers >

Not all cell changes are caused by high-risk HPV, so it does not necessarily mean you are at increased risk. If you are worried, speak with your doctor or nurse who know your full medical history and will be able to offer some guidance.

Read more about cell changes >

We don't have a definite answer to this question. In theory, if you and your partner have been infected with one type of HPV, you should now be immune to that type. This means you should not get it again.

However, studies have shown that natural immunity to HPV is poor and women and people with a cervix can be reinfected with the same HPV type.

In some cases, some people will not get the same type of HPV again, but in some cases other people will get the same type of HPV again.

We know this uncertainly can be hard, but it may help to be aware of symptoms and go for cervical screening (a smear test) when you are invited. If you are worried, speak with your doctor. Remember, we are also here to support you. Call our Helpline on 0808 802 8000, join our online forum to speak with others affected or use our Ask the Expert service.

We don’t know much about HPV reinfection between couples, so there is a possibility that this could happen. But whether your partner has HPV and reinfects you will depend on whether their immune system can get rid of the infection.

In most cases, our immune system eventually clears HPV within 2 years. 

But in some cases, HPV may stay in the body (persist) for years. Sometimes the HPV does not cause any harm (clinically insignificant), but sometimes it can cause cervical cell changes (abnormal cells). If HPV does this, it is clinically significant. Remember that this is rare and not what usually happens.

Many researchers say the chances of passing on HPV after the last time warts or cervical abnormalities were present reduces over time. This is not a definite answer, but it is likely that even when you have it, HPV does not always affect the body.

It's possible. In most cases, your immune system will eventually get rid of an HPV infection within 2 years. But HPV can stay in our bodies without causing any harm, although we don’t know a lot about this yet. Rarely, HPV that stays in the body can cause changes to the cells of the cervix (abnormalities).

Anybody who has ever been sexually active is at risk of getting HPV, because genital HPV is passed on through skin-to-skin contact in the genital area, including:

  • vaginal, anal and oral sex
  • touching in the genital area
  • sharing sex toys.

The time from getting HPV to developing warts, cervical abnormalities or cervical cancer varies. In some people, we know that HPV can stay in the body without causing any problems (clinically insignificant) for a long time, before starting to cause problems. Often, it is not possible to find out exactly when you got HPV or who you got it from.

As we age, our ability to respond to any infection does decline, but there is still a good protective response in most of us.

Yes, you can still get HPV during or after menopause. HPV is passed on through skin-to-skin contact in the genital area – something that is not affected by the menopause.

If you have ever been sexually active, there is also a risk of having HPV that is not currently causing any problems (clinically insignificant), that could start to cause problems (become clinically significant).

Read more about how people get HPV >

HPV is a common, sexually transmitted virus. It is more common in young, sexually active people, with most people getting it between the ages of 16 and 25.

4 out of 5 (80%) of us will have HPV at some point in our lives, so it is really hard to avoid. Having HPV isn’t a sign that someone has slept with a lot of people or been unfaithful to a partner, because you can get it during your first sexual contact – whether that is touching, penetrative sex, oral sex or sharing sex toys. The risk of getting HPV does increase with the number of sexual partners someone has, as well as the number of partners their partner has had, but that is just because there is a higher chance of being exposed to HPV. 

The infection rate in men has not been evaluated to the same extent as in women, but is likely to follow the same pattern.

Using condoms and dental dams to have safe sex can help reduce the risk of getting HPV. But it won’t completely get rid of the risk, as HPV lives on the skin in and around the whole genital area – not just the part that the condom or dental dam covers! In men, genital HPV affects the skin of the penis, scrotum, anus and rectum. In women, it affects the vulva (area outside the vagina), lining of the vagina, cervix and rectum.

The contraceptive pill and other forms of contraception will not help reduce the risk of getting HPV.

Anybody who has ever been sexually active is at risk of getting HPV. Genital HPV is passed on through skin-to-skin contact in the genital area, including:

  • touching
  • vaginal, anal and oral sex
  • sharing sex toys.

Read more about how people get HPV >

Unfortunately, we don't have a definite answer to this question. In theory, once you have been infected with HPV you should be immune to that type and should not be reinfected. However, studies have shown that natural immunity to HPV is poor and women can be reinfected with the same virus type. So in some cases the answer will be yes, but in others it will be no.

The time from getting HPV to developing genital warts, cell changes (abnormal cells) or cervical cancer varies.

Although most of us clear HPV within 2 years, it can stay in the body for many years, even decades, without causing any problems (clinically insignificant). But in some people, HPV may start causing problems (become clinically significant) again, which makes it difficult to find out exactly when you got HPV or who you got it from.

Anyone who has ever had any sexual contact is at risk of getting HPV. It doesn’t matter what kind of sex that is – penetrative, oral, touching or sharing sex toys – or who you have it with.

Read more about how people get HPV >

Yes, HPV is the same virus. But the HPV types that cause genital warts and the HPV types that cause cervical cancer are different. The HPV types that cause genital warts are low risk, while the types that cause cervical cancer are high risk.  

HPV 6 and 11 are the 2 most common low-risk types. They cause around 9 in 10 (90%) cases of genital warts. The Gardasil HPV vaccine that the NHS uses protects against HPV 6 and 11.

Remember, having genital warts does not mean that you are more likely to get cancer.

Read more about genital warts >

There is no treatment for HPV itself, but conditions it causes can be treated – for example, genital warts, cell changes (abnormal cells), or cervical cancer.

More questions?

If you have questions or concerns about HPV, get a confidential response from a medical professional.

Ask the Expert

Cervical screening

Find out what cervical screening is for, who is invited and what to expect at the appointment.

Date last updated: 
01 Jul 2019

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