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Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name of a common virus. It infects the skin and any moist membrane (mucosa). This includes the:
Most people will get HPV at some point in their lives and it usually goes away without causing any problems.
Because HPV lives on our skin, it is easy to get and difficult to completely protect against. HPV is passed on through sexual contact. This makes some people feel worried or embarrassed. 8 in 10 of us get HPV at some point in their life. In most cases, our immune system gets rid of HPV within 2 years without it causing any problems.
We know of over 200 types of HPV. Each type has a number and different types affect different parts of the body.
Some HPV types can be split into 2 groups depending on whether they are linked to a risk of cancer. These groups are called:
Most of the HPV types that can be split like this are in the low-risk group. Low-risk HPV types may not cause any problems. Sometimes they might lead to conditions like warts on your hands and feet, and genital warts.
Certain cancers are linked to infection with high-risk types of HPV that do not go away. This is called ‘persistent infection’. It is important to remember that if you have HPV, including high-risk types, your body usually gets rid of it without it causing any issues. Having HPV does not mean you will get cancer.
About 40 HPV types affect the genital area and the skin around it. This includes the:
About 14 HPV types are linked to cancer. They are called high-risk HPV.
Having high-risk HPV does not mean you will get cancer. In most people, HPV will go away without causing any problems. However, we understand that thinking about cancer can be upsetting. If you would like to talk, you can call our Helpline on 0808 802 8000. Our opening hours are listed here.
HPV itself has no symptoms, so many people may have HPV without knowing it. This can be worrying. But it might be helpful to remember that HPV usually goes away without causing any problems. In 9 in 10 cases, HPV is cleared within 2 years.
In England, Scotland and Wales, cervical screening (previously called a ‘smear test’) looks for high-risk HPV first. This is called HPV primary screening. In Northern Ireland, a different test is used before looking for HPV. There will be a switch to HPV primary screening in the future.
There is no treatment for HPV itself. But there are treatments for conditions caused by HPV. These conditions include genital warts, cervical cell changes and cancer.
HPV can be a really confusing topic — you're not alone if you feel worried or unsure about it.
We cannot give you medical advice or answers about any results. In this case, it is best to speak with your GP or nurse.
We would like to thank all the experts who checked the accuracy of this information, and the volunteers who shared their personal experience to help us develop it.
We write our information based on literature searches and expert review. For more information about the references we used, please contact [email protected]