What You Need to Know About Human Papillomavirus

What is HPV?

Human Papillomavirus, more commonly known as HPV, can affect both females and males. Most types of HPV are harmless. Do not cause any symptoms, and go away on their own.

There are about 30 types of HPV that affect the genital area, also known as gentile HPV. Some types are high risk and can cause cervical cancer or abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix that can sometimes turn into cancer. Others are low risk and can cause genital warts and changes in the cervix that are benign (abnormal but noncancerous.)

Who gets genital HPV?

Anyone who has any kind of sexual activity involving genital contact could get genital HPV. Because many people who have HPV may not show any signs or symptoms, they can transmit the virus without even knowing it.

HPV is more common that you may think. In 2005, approximately 20 million Americans had genital HPV. In the United States, more than 6 million new cases of HPV are diagnosed every year.

How do I know if I have HPV?

Because HPV may not show any signs or symptoms, you probably won’t know you have it. Most women are diagnosed with HPV as a result of receiving abnormal Pap tests. A Pap test, which may also be referred to as a Pap smear, is part of a gynecological exam and it helps detect abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix before they have the chance to become precancer or cervical cancer.

What happens if I get HPV?

In most people, the body’s defenses are enough to clear HPV. If HPV is not cleared by the body, some HPV may cause genital warts. Other types may cause abnormal changes in the cells lining the cervix that can lead to precancers and even turn into cervical cancer later in life.