Vaccination against HPV has been available for many years and everyone who is eligible should have it.
80% of unvaccinated adults will pick up HPV at some point in their life. In most people, it causes no symptoms (you won’t know you have it) so is therefore unavoidably shared mainly through sexual (including oral) skin-to-skin contact.
In most people the virus is harmless and causes no symptoms and will not develop into warts, pre-cancer or cancer.
In a few people, HPV causes genital warts which are undesirable but harmless.
In a few people, HPV can cause abnormal cells which can sometimes lead to cancers in both men and women, including cervical, vaginal, vulval, anal, head and neck cancers and penile cancers.
Partners will inevitably share HPV. There is no way to know which partner it came from or how long ago. Having HPV does not mean that a person or their partner is having sex outside the current relationship.
There are treatments for genital warts and abnormal cells.
There is no treatment to eliminate HPV itself. HPV is usually dealt with by your body’s immune system.
HPV does not affect fertility.
HPV does not stop you having a normal sex life.
There are tests for HPV. However, these are limited in which HPV types they test for and when they are used. "HPV testing" is not available as part of a sexual health check (routine check up) for males or females, as there is no swab or blood test that can check for all HPV types and also because, in some people, the virus is "hibernating" at levels that are not detectable by testing. This means there is no test that can help answer the questions “Do I have HPV?”, “Does my partner have HPV?”, “Has my HPV gone?”.
Anogenital warts - key information
Routine STI screening does not include testing for either HPV or HSV (genital herpes). There is no sure way to know when HPV was acquired.
If left untreated, genital warts may go away, stay the same, or increase in size or number.
If warts are in the pubic region avoid shaving or waxing as this may spread the warts.
Genital warts do not turn into cancer.
The types of HPV that cause genital warts rarely cause cancer.
Genital warts can develop months or years after acquiring an infection with HPV. Genital warts can be passed on to another person even when there are no visible signs of warts.
There is no sure way to know when HPV was acquired. Sex partners who have been together tend to share HPV, even when both partners do not show signs of HPV. The presence of genital warts does not mean that a person or their partner is having sex outside the current relationship.
Although genital warts are common and benign, this can be an upsetting diagnosis.
There are treatments for the conditions caused by HPV, such as genital warts. However, treating genital warts does not treat the virus itself. For this reason, it is possible for genital warts to come back after treatment, especially in the first 3 months.
Inform current sexual partner(s) that genital warts may be transmitted to a partner. Partner(s) may benefit from getting tested for other STIs. A current partner may already have HPV, even though they may not have visible signs of warts.
Condoms may lower the chances of transmitting genital warts if used with every sex act; however, HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom and condoms may not fully protect against HPV.
There is an HPV vaccine available for males and females that prevents genital warts but it will not treat existing HPV or genital warts. This vaccine can prevent most cases of genital warts in persons who have not yet been exposed to wart-causing types of HPV.
There is no known health benefit to informing future partner(s) if a person has had genital warts in the past, because the virus often clears by natural immunity.
Cervical cancer screening - key information
HPV is a common infection and often clears by natural immunity. A positive HPV test does not mean that a person has cancer. Most people with a cervix who have HPV do not develop abnormal cells or cancer.
HPV is often shared between partners and can lie dormant for many years; having HPV does not imply other sexual contacts, nor should it necessarily raise concerns about a partner’s health.
Most cervical cancers can be prevented by HPV vaccination and having regular cervical screening. Vaccination, regular screening and following the National Cervical Screening Programme (NCSP) recommended guidelines if any abnormalities are identified, is the most effective pathway to prevent invasive cervical cancer developing.
Prevention - key information
HPV vaccination, ideally before ever having sex, is the first line of defence and the most effective way of preventing HPV.
Condoms used consistently and correctly may lower the chances of acquiring and transmitting HPV and developing HPV-related diseases, such as genital warts and cervical cancer. However, HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom, so condoms do not fully protect against HPV.
Preventing HPV cancers by vaccination pamphlet
Preventing HPV cancers by vaccination: what everyone should know