Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus – four out of five people will experience it at some stage of their lives. There are many different types of HPV, which affect both males and females. In most people the infection is harmless and clears up naturally in about one to two years. Occasionally, some types of HPV persist in the body and, if left untreated, can become cancerous.
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How is HPV transmitted?
HPV is highly contagious and is passed from person to person through different forms of sexual contact. HPV can be passed even when an infected person has no obvious signs or symptoms.
You can also develop symptoms years after sexual contact with someone affected by the virus, making it hard to know when infection first occurred.
HVP and herpes are not related. If you have HPV, it does not mean you will have herpes.
How do you know if you have HPV?
HPV does not usually cause symptoms, so people are generally unaware they have it. Some women may become aware that they have HPV if they have an abnormal cervical screening result.
Can HPV be treated?
There is no treatment for the HPV virus, however it can often clear naturally from the body. There are treatments for the effects of the virus, such as warts, or changes to the cells of the cervix. Routine cervical screening can detect HPV-related pre-cancer cell changes before cancer develops.
HPV and cancer
It is important to remember that most people who have HPV clear the virus naturally and do not go on to develop cancer. However, some types of HPV can cause changes to the cells of the body, and if left untreated these abnormalities can increase the risk of developing a number of cancers in both men and women – including cervical, vaginal, penile, anal, and head and neck cancers. Other types of HPV can cause genital warts.
Cervical Cancer- Recommendation for women
Some types of HPV have been found to cause abnormalities of the cervix and in some cases cancer of the cervix. Having regular cervical screening is the best way to ensure that any changes are detected early, monitored, and managed.
If a cervical screening test shows early cell changes due to HPV, there is a strong chance that these changes will naturally clear up in one to two years. Because of this, and the fact that cervical cancer takes around 10 years to develop, the doctor will most likely recommend a follow up test in 12 months’ time.
Cancer Council recommends that all women aged between 18 and 69 who have ever been sexually active have a Pap test every two years. Women should also note that there will be changes to the cervical screening program in late 2017 – until these changes have been implement women should continue participating in the current two-yearly pap smear screening program.
Read more about the National Cervical Screening Program.
Recommendations for men
See your General Practitioner if you notice anything new or unusual such as warts or other growths, lumps, or sores on your penis, scrotum, anus, mouth, or in the throat.
Protecting yourself against HPV
The HPV vaccine, Gardasil, has been developed to protect against the two high-risk types of HPV (types 16 and 18), which cause 70% of cervical cancers in women and 90% of all HPV -related cancers in men. It also protects against two low-risk types of HPV (types 6 and 11), which cause 90% of genital warts. It is important to remember that the vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV.
The vaccine has been proven safe for use. To date, more than nine-million doses have been administered. Girls and boys aged 12–13 years can receive the HPV vaccine free of charge as part of the National HPV Vaccination Program. The vaccine is administered three times over a six-month period.
Read more about the HPV vaccine.
Practice safe sex
Condoms can help to reduce the risk of HPV, but will not provide 100% protection against HPV because they do not cover all of the genital skin. Remember that condoms do protect against other sexually transmitted infections.
The information available on this page should not be used as a substitute for advice from a properly qualified medical professional who can advise you about your own individual medical needs. It is not intended to constitute medical advice and is provided for general information purposes only. See our disclaimer.