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Two studies from the Netherlands may suggest that consistent condom use can speed the regression of human papilloma virus (HPV)‐related lesions on the cervix and on the penis and shorten the time it takes to clear HPV infections. The researchers believe that their findings add to the evidence that condoms can be a useful tool in the prevention of HPV‐related cancers, though some experts consider the issue still unresolved.


Condoms appeared to help HPV lesions regress faster in two small studies.

Researchers from VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam and Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Dordrecht described their results in two articles in the International Journal of Cancer (2003;107:804–810 and 811–816). Both studies involved long‐term (8 to 10 years) monogamous heterosexual couples in which the women had cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN).

In the study that evaluated the effect of condom use on cervical lesions, women were randomized into two groups: one that used condoms during sexual intercourse for at least three months (64 women assessed) and one that did not use condoms (61 women assessed). The women’s lesions were followed by colposcopy, cytology, and a polymerase chain reaction assay for HPV at regular intervals. There were no statistical differences between the two groups of women in terms of age, smoking status, or general sexual history (number of partners, age at first intercourse, history of sexually transmitted diseases, and other factors).

After two years, the researchers found that the cumulative regression rate of cervical lesions was 53% in the group of women randomized to use condoms but only 35% in the women who were not using condoms (regression was defined as two consecutive findings of no colposcopically‐noted CIN). Women with CIN2 or higher‐grade lesions or HPV infection showed no difference in regression rates by condom use.

Condom use also appeared to have an effect on how quickly the women were cleared of HPV. Twenty‐three percent of women in the condom group had clearance of HPV after two years, compared with 4% in the group not using condoms, where HPV clearance was defined as two negative tests for HPV regardless of type.

However, in women who still had CIN lesions or HPV infection after six months, there was no difference in the regression rate of either the HPV infection or the CIN lesion between the condom and noncondom groups.

Similar results were found in the study of men and HPV. In that study, men with HPV‐related penile lesions (all of whose partners also had CIN) were evaluated after regular condom use for at least three months (57 men) or no condom use (43 men). Men who were assigned to the condom group had a mean time to regression of 7.4 months for flat penile lesions, compared with 13.9 months in the noncondom group. Regression of papular lesions was not significantly different in either group, and condyloma acuminata did not occur frequently enough for analysis. There was a trend toward greater likelihood of HPV clearance in the condom group (27% after two years) than in the control group (7%), although the difference did not reach statistical significance.

In this study, too, among men who still had lesions after six months, regression rates were not affected by condom use.

In both studies, the researchers speculate that the use of condoms inhibits the continued transmission of HPV between partners. That, in turn, would lower the viral load, allowing more rapid regression of lesions and more rapid elimination of the virus from the body. They recommend advocating condom use as a means of promoting HPV clearance and regression of HPV‐related lesions.

Another expert, however, says several issues regarding condoms and HPV‐related disease remain unresolved.

Diane Harper, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Community and Family Medicine and of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Director of the Gynecologic Cancer Prevention Research Group at Dartmouth Medical School, and a member of the ACS’s Gynecologic Cancer Advisory Committee, noted that the Dutch researchers didn’t separate incident cases (occurring during the course of the study) of HPV infection from prevalent cases (present when subjects entered the study). The fact that regression rates differed little in the condom and noncondom groups after six months suggests condoms do not have an effect on prevalent HPV infections, prevalent CIN lesions, or prevalent penile lesions, she said.

The rates of regression in both of these studies of men and women, some followed for up to five years of condom use, are strikingly lower than natural history studies have reported, indicating that the study population was a combination of both incident and prevalent infections and lesions, Harper said. Most likely the attributable proportion of those with long standing infections and lesions regressing was quite small.

Most HPV infections and associated lesions are transient and regress spontaneously within a year. These would be the incident cases in this study, explained Harper. On the other hand, once infections and lesions persist for more than a year, such as the prevalent cases in this study, they are much less likely to regress.

Harper agrees that avoiding continued exposure to a high viral load might promote regression of incident cases. She also hypothesizes a second mechanism related to the “epithelial microtrauma” associated with condom use. These microscopic tears in the basal layer could increase exposure of immune system cells to viral antigens, thereby augmenting the immune response.

The question that still remains unanswered is whether condoms can substantially reduce exposure to HPV. Consistent condom use is clearly effective for the prevention of several other sexually transmitted diseases involving organisms that are transmitted in semen and primarily infect mucosal surfaces. By contrast, HPV is not transmitted in semen or bodily fluids, but is transmitted through skin‐to‐skin contact, and HPV infections often extend throughout the entire anogenital epithelium, far beyond the area covered by condoms. For this reason, the prevailing view has been that condoms cannot offer complete protection from the virus. Previous studies of whether condoms offer any degree of protection against HPV have been inconsistent, according to a 1999 report by the CDC.

Harper agrees with the CDC consensus and notes that the current study is more useful for guiding future research than as a basis of current clinical recommendations.

“Condoms may help with incident infections that are not well established, but most incident infections would not be detected without constantly sampling for HPV detection, which is not practical,” Harper said. “In clinical practice, by the time most infections and lesions are found, they are much less likely to be influenced by condom use.”

In addressing the problem of HPV, Harper emphasized public education, screening for and appropriate treatment of associated lesions, and research.

“We need to tell our patients that they cannot depend on condoms to prevent HPV transmission. When women and men become sexually active, there is a very high chance they will become infected with HPV. It is important for the women to tell their doctors when they become sexually active so that cervical cancer screening can begin at three years after sexual debut,” she said.

“Our focus needs to be on community education ‐ there is a vast lack of understanding and misunderstanding in all age groups of the community by both genders. Fortunately, both vaccines and topical drugs for prophylactic and therapeutic prevention of HPV are under development, and I’m optimistic that these new approaches will begin to change the way we think about controlling HPV and cervical cancer within the next 10 years,” said Harper.

Living Well With HPV: 5 Steps for Safer Sex

More than half of all men and women who are sexually active will be infected by the human papillomavirus (HPV) at some time in their lives.

But “most women and men with the virus will never know they have it,” says Vanessa Cullins, MD, MPH, a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist and the vice president for medical affairs at Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Most people infected with HPV do not develop any symptoms or health problems from the virus because the body’s immune system is able to fight off the infection.

“For the overwhelming majority of people, having an HPV infection has no impact on their lives,” Dr. Cullins says.

Still, some people do develop genital warts, which are caused by certain types of HPV, and some women learn they have HPV after an abnormal Pap smear, in which cells from the cervix are examined for cancerous or precancerous changes, or after an HPV test of cervical cells.

RELATED: New Guidelines Further Simplify Cervical Cancer Screening

For others, the first indication of an HPV infection is a diagnosis of anal, vulvar, vaginal, penile, or oropharyngeal cancer.

There are currently no screening tests for detecting HPV infection in these areas of the body. Signs of cancer may include redness, irritation, sores that don’t heal, abnormal bleeding, itching, pain, and lumps. If you experience any of these symptoms in your genital or anal regions or mouth or throat, see a doctor promptly to get it checked out.

How to Lower Your Risk of HPV Infection and Transmission

If you know you’re infected with HPV — or even if you don’t know — what should you do to safeguard yourself and your sexual partner from HPV transmission?

First, assume you will be living with some type of HPV virus at some point in your life. “Everyone who is sexually active, vaccinated or not, should make this assumption,” Cullins says.

Then consider these steps to help protect yourself and anyone with whom you have intimate contact.

1. Get Vaccinated and Encourage Your Partner to Get Vaccinated

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all boys and girls get the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12 — likely before they’ve been exposed to sexually transmitted strains of the human papillomavirus.

If you didn’t get the vaccine as an adolescent, it may not be too late. In October 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expanded its approval of the HPV vaccine currently used in the United States — Gardasil 9 — to include adults up to age 45, vastly increasing the numbers of people eligible to receive the vaccine and the protection it provides.

FDA approval of the vaccine does not guarantee that health insurance will cover the cost of it, so adults ages 27 to 45 who are interested in being vaccinated against HPV should check with their insurer first to make sure they’re not faced with surprise medical expenses.

Gardasil 9 protects against the two HPV strains that cause most genital warts, types 6 and 11, as well as against seven cancer-causing types of HPV, including HPV types 16 and 18.

An earlier form of Gardasil protected against just four types of HPV: types 6 and 11, which cause warts, and types 16 and 18, which raise the risk of cancer.

Another HPV vaccine, Cervarix, is no longer available in the United States but is used elsewhere in the world. It protects only against HPV types 16 and 18.

The HPV vaccine has been found to be both safe and effective, and when possible, it should be your first-line strategy for preventing HPV infection.

RELATED: HPV Vaccine Offers Cancer and Genital Wart Prevention

2. Use Condoms When Having Sex

HPV is spread by direct contact, so you should use condoms every time you have sex — from start to finish. Consistent use of condoms will reduce your risk for HPV transmission, but it will not completely eliminate it. The virus can be on areas of the skin not covered by the condom. You should use condoms or dental dams for vaginal, oral, or anal sex, and never reuse condoms.

3. Get Regular Medical and Dental Checkups

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that women start getting screened for cervical cancer at age 21. Between ages 21 and 29, according to the USPSTF women should have a Pap test every three years to look for early signs of cancer.

For women ages 30 to 65, the USPSTF recommends screening with Pap tests alone every three years, or a combination of Pap tests and HPV tests every five years.

Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV infection, and it is typically curable if found early.

While there are no equivalent screening tests to detect precancerous conditions of the anus, genitals, mouth, or throat, “routine preventive dental and medical care is one of the best prescriptions for ongoing health,” Cullins says.

4. Learn to Identify HPV Symptoms

Know the symptoms of HPV-related infections so you can be on the lookout for them in yourself and your partner.

HPV can cause genital warts, which usually appear as a small, flat bump or groups of bumps in the genital area. If not treated, genital warts can grow larger.

If you or your partner is being treated for an HPV-related infection, you should refrain from having sex until treatment is completed.

RELATED: HPV Warts: The Misunderstood STD

5. Practice Good Genital Hygiene

After having sex, urinate to rinse any germs from your urethra, and wash your genitals with soap and water. This can help clean away bacteria or viruses before they have time to infect you.

Additional reporting by Ingrid Strauch.

Your Personal Guide to HPV and Sex

HPV (human papillomavirus) is the most common STD/STI. It’s been known to cause genital warts and cancer, and it spreads easily through sexual contact. So how can you protect yourself and your sexual partner from getting HPV?

Maybe you have HPV and are worried about infecting your partner. Maybe your partner just told you they have HPV and you’re wondering if it’s safe to keep having sex with them. Or, maybe you just want to know how you can lower your chances of getting an HPV infection.

In any case, here’s your personalized guide to living and loving with HPV.

What to do if you have HPV

First of all, don’t worry. While HPV is definitely something you’ll want to talk to your doctor about, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. And it’s probably not as bad as you think it is. Yes, it’s true that certain types of HPV can cause cancer. But the vast majority of patients recover naturally within one or two years, and have no lasting symptoms. Even if HPV does cause cancer, you can usually catch and treat it – or even prevent it – if you get regular health screenings.

Perhaps surprisingly, most sexually active people will develop HPV at some point. In fact, about 79 million Americans have it right now.

Of course, you’ll still want to take action. If you have genital warts, see a dermatologist to get rid of them. While these warts can heal on their own, it usually takes a long time and there’s always a risk that they’ll come back.

For women, if you had an abnormal Pap smear, you doctor will probably want to check for precancerous cells, just to be on the safe side.

So what does HPV mean for your sex life? Although it’s ultimately your decision, we recommend telling your partner you have it. Remember that you haven’t done anything wrong, and you have nothing to apologize for. Before telling your partner, you may want to do a little reading up on HPV yourself, so you can answer their questions.

HPV spreads through skin-to-skin contact during genital or oral sex, which means it can spread via genital-to-genital contact, genital-to-anus, or genital-to-mouth. If you’re worried about spreading HPV, you can use condoms and dental dams to lower your partner’s risk of infection.

Once you’ve told your partner, the two of you can decide whether or not you want to continue having sex. If you have HPV with genital warts, then you might want to get these treated first, as they’re usually contagious.

Your dermatologist may recommend freezing the warts off (known as cryotherapy or cryosurgery), or using a prescription cream on a regular basis until the warts are gone. In more extreme cases, your dermatologist may apply TCA acid or Podophyllin (a liquid that burns the wart off) to destroy the wart tissue. For some of these treatments, you’ll need to come in for a few visits over a period of time.

If you have HPV without any symptoms, you can still pass the infection on to your partner. Then again, about 90 percent of HPV patients clear the infection on their own without developing cancer. So the chances that your HPV will negatively affect your partner are pretty slim.

Sometimes, people worry that if they spread HPV to their partner, their partner will spread it back to them and it will just keep going back and forth. Not to worry: once you get infected with one type of HPV, you won’t get it again. Bear in mind, though, that since there are so many different types of HPV, you could potentially get infected with another type later.

What to do if your partner has HPV

Right now, your partner is probably scared and a bit overwhelmed. By telling you about their diagnosis, they’ve shown that they trust and care about you. React in a way that shows you trust and care about them as well.

First of all, it helps to understand what HPV is and how someone can develop it. HPV (human papillomavirus) is one of the most common sexually-transmitted infections, and there are more than 100 different types. Although it has been known to cause cancer, 90% of HPV patients clear up on their own, with no symptoms. This usually happens within one or two years.

It’s important to realize that HPV isn’t a sign of unfaithfulness or promiscuity. Anyone can get it, including monogamous sexual partners. In fact, most people who are sexually active will develop HPV at some point.

HPV spreads through skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal, or oral sex, as well as through the touching of genitals. So, if your sexual partner has HPV, there’s a good chance you could catch it yourself. That doesn’t mean you need to be celibate for the rest of your life, though. Since the risk of developing cancer from HPV is so low, and since most HPV-related cancers can be treated or even prevented, you’re probably OK to keep having sex.

If your partner has genital warts, their HPV probably isn’t precancerous. Then again, genital warts are contagious – and they can be frustrating to deal with. If you’ve already been exposed to your partner’s genital warts, you might see symptoms within a few weeks or months. If you do, it’s nothing to worry about. Simply see a dermatologist for treatment.

If you want to keep having sex but are concerned about your risk of infection, use condoms or dental dams. While these won’t guarantee HPV prevention, they significantly lower your risk of infection.

What to do if you’re concerned about getting HPV

Even if neither you nor your partner currently has HPV, there’s a good chance one or both of you could get it at some point. If you’re under 26, you may want to get the HPV vaccine. This prevents most types of HPV, including the main types that cause genital warts and cancer. (You may be able to get the vaccine if you’re over 26. Just talk to your healthcare provider.)

If you’re over 15, you’ll need to get the vaccine in three doses over six months. The vaccine won’t treat HPV that you already have, it will just prevent you from getting it in the future.

Practicing safe sex is also a good way to steer clear of HPV. Condoms or dental dams help minimize your skin-to-skin contact during sex, which makes you less likely to develop HPV. Of course, abstaining from sex is the only sure way not to get HPV. And having sex with multiple partners increases your risk.

If you’re a woman, you might want to get a Pap smear about every three years to check for precancerous cells. That way, if you do get precancerous HPV, you can catch it as soon as it appears.

HPV may be the most common STI, but it’s also one of the easiest to deal with. There’s no need to rein in your love and/or your sex life for fear of getting HPV – just be honest, be smart, and protect yourself and the people you love. After all, that’s probably the most effective strategy you can apply to life.

What are Genital Warts?

Genital warts are common and are caused by certain types of HPV. Genital warts can be annoying, but they’re treatable and aren’t dangerous.

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Genital warts are caused by HPV

Genital warts show up on the skin around your genitals and anus. They’re caused by certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV). You might’ve heard that some types of HPV can cause cancer, but they’re NOT the same kinds that give you genital warts.

HPV can be a tricky STD to understand. It’s the most common STD, but most of the time it goes away on its own. Sometimes certain types of “high-risk” HPV can develop into cancer if left untreated. Other “low-risk” types of HPV can cause warts on your vulva, vagina, cervix, rectum, anus, penis or scrotum. Genital warts are common — about 360,000 people get them each year.

How do you get genital warts?

You get genital warts from having skin-to-skin contact with someone who’s infected, often during vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Genital warts can be spread even if no one cums, and a penis doesn’t have to go inside a vagina or anus to get them. You can spread them even when you don’t have any visible warts or other symptoms, though that’s less common. You can also pass genital warts to a baby during vaginal childbirth, but that’s pretty rare.

Genital warts are different from warts you might get elsewhere on your body. So you can’t get genital warts by touching yourself (or a partner) with a wart that’s on your hand or foot.

You’re more likely to pass genital warts when you’re having symptoms. So if you notice a wart, it’s best to get tested and treated to help lower the risk of passing genital warts on to a partner.

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Genital Warts and Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Some types of HPV infection can be prevented by new vaccines which have been registered for use in Australia.

The National HPV Vaccination Program provides free vaccination for students in the first year of high school. For information about the program such as eligibility and where people can be immunised, see the Queensland Health Immunisation Program, or the school-based vaccination program.

The vaccine provided to Queensland school students can prevent infection caused by the four most common types of genital HPV. Two of the HPV types in the vaccine protect against the majority of genital HPV related cancers while the other two protect against the genital HPV types which cause 90% of genital warts. It does not protect against cancers and genital warts caused by the HPV types not included in the vaccine.

Vaccines are available on private prescription from your GP. You should discuss the protection each vaccine offers with your doctor.

Whilst one of the HPV vaccines targets the types of HPV infection that most commonly cause genital warts or increase the risk of cervical cancer, using condoms and/or dental dams is still recommended to reduce transmission of the virus and protect against HPV types not included in available vaccines.

HPV and Cervical Cancer

For information about cervical cancer and the links between HPV, see Cervical Cancer Screening.

HPV and Relationships

The emotional toll of dealing with HPV is often as difficult as the medical aspects and can be more awkward to address. This may be the area where you feel most vulnerable, and the lack of clear counseling messages can make this even more stressful, especially where relationships are concerned.

We regularly receive questions about what to tell either a current or future sex partner about HPV, for example. The better educated you are about HPV, the easier it is to give partners the information needed to answer common questions. Use the information in this section (and elsewhere on NCCC’s Web site) to give yourself a good foundation of knowledge.

Talking to a Partner

Before discussing things with a partner think about addressing any of your own questions or issues about HPV. This is to help establish your own comfort level and is where knowledge really does equal power. One of the most important aspects of coping with HPV, and helping partners develop a good understanding of the virus, is getting factual information and avoiding myths and hype. It may also be a good idea to have resources to which you can direct a partner, so you know they turn to trustworthy sources for information. In addition to NCCC’s Web pages, see our Resources page for more sites with HPV information.When talking to a partner, first remember that having HPV does not mean you have done anything wrong. As mentioned above, most sexually active people are likely to be exposed to HPV at some point, though most never have visible symptoms and remain unaware. Having HPV simply means you, like so many others, have been exposed to a common virus. It is not a reflection on you, your character, or your values, and conversations with partners should not be viewed as making a “confession” or offering an “apology”. With a new relationship it may be good to date for a while and allow aspects of the relationship besides sex to develop as you get to know one another and become closer.

Most sexually active couples share HPV until the immune response suppresses the infection. Partners who are sexually intimate only with each other are not likely to pass the same virus back and forth. When HPV infection goes away the immune system will remember that HPV type and keep a new infection of the same HPV type from occurring again. However, because there are many different types of HPV, becoming immune to one HPV type may not protect you from getting HPV again if exposed to another HPV type.

Key Points to Share

  • HPV types: There are over 100 types of HPV, about 30 of which are primarily associated with anogenital skin and sexual transmission. Of these types, some can cause genital warts (“low-risk” HPV) while others may cause abnormal cell changes, most commonly of the cervix (“high-risk” HPV).HPV Latency: It can take weeks, months, or even years after exposure to HPV before symptoms develop or the virus is detected. This is why it is usually impossible to determine when or from whom HPV may have been contracted.
  • A recent diagnosis of HPV does not necessarily mean anyone has been unfaithful, even in a long-term relationship spanning years.Medical Impact: The medical risks of genital HPV do exist and should not to be overlooked, but a key point is that for most people, HPV is a harmless infection that does not result in visible symptoms or health complications.
  • Very few cases of “high-risk” HPV will lead to cervical cancer, for example, primarily because the immune response is usually able to suppress the virus before cancer develops. In some cases, HPV may cause cell changes that persist for years, and the cells can eventually become cancerous if not detected in time. However, regular screening (such as Pap tests) can almost always find abnormalities so they can be treated, if needed, before cancer occurs.Some other cancers associated with “high-risk” HPV include those of the anus, penis, vagina, and vulva. These cancers are not common and are very rare in industrialized nations, however.

Testing Partners for HPV

Current partners are likely to share HPV, but this may be difficult to prove. Testing options for HPV are limited and most cases are never diagnosed.Pap tests, for example are not specific screening for HPV; they are designed to detect abnormal cell changes of the cervix. HPV DNA testing is not currently approved to test infection status. HPV tests are approved for clinical use with women as 1) follow-up with unclear Pap test results or 2) as primary screening for those over age 30.Screening for men usually consists of a visual inspection to look for lesions (such as warts). Some health care providers apply an acetic wash (vinegar) as a means of highlighting lesions, but this is not a specific test for HPV and may lead to overdiagnosis.Most cases of HPV, in either gender, remain unconfirmed clinically.

Passing on HPV after treatment

Much remains unknown about HPV transmission when symptoms (lesions such as warts or cell changes) aren’t present, so experts cannot fully answer this question. However, studies show that in most cases a healthy immune system will be likely to clear, or suppress, HPV eventually. Some cases may persist for years and result in recurrent lesions, but this is not the norm. The bottom line is that most who have genital HPV DNA detected in research studies eventually test negative, often within a year or two.Many researchers and clinicians do believe “subclinical” HPV (virus may be in skin cells but no lesions are present) is less likely to be transmitted than when warts or cell changes are detected, probably due to a reduced viral load, and subsequently think it is reasonable to say the chances of transmitting virus years after the last clinical episode (where lesions were detected) will become increasingly remote over time. This is not easy to prove and the lack of a solid “yes or no” answer is frustrating. Still, HPV does not seem likely to always be active.

How does a person get infected with HPV besides sexual contact? Can I ever live a normal life with HPV?

Genital HPV is a sexually transmitted infection. The virus is spread through direct skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. Transmission occurs during vaginal, anal, and oral sex. It can also be spread through other kinds of sexual activity, like body-rubbing. Rarely, it can spread from a woman to a fetus during childbirth.

HPV is a very common sexually transmitted infection that affects millions of women and men around the world. Most types of genital HPV cause no symptoms and most go away by themselves. But a few types of HPV can linger and cause genital warts, which may be uncomfortable and unattractive, but aren’t dangerous. A few other types of genital HPV, however, can linger and lead to cancer of the cervix, anus, penis, vagina, and vulva.

The best protection against cervical cancer for sexually active women is vaccination against HPV and regular Pap tests. The HPV vaccine protects against two types of HPV that cause genital warts and two types of HPV that cause about 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. The HPV vaccine is recommended for all young women between nine and 26 years old.

One reason genital HPV is so common is that it’s highly contagious. About 75 percent of all sexually active people will become infected with HPV at some point in their lives. Two-thirds of people who come into contact with the virus will develop an infection within three months. As with non-genital HPV, some of these infections are visible, in the form of warts, while others are not. It’s also possible for someone to have more than one type of HPV infection at the same time.

Tags: HPV, STDs

HPV and Cancer

What is HPV?

HPV is short for human papilloma (pap-uh-LO-muh) virus. HPVs are a large group of related viruses. Each virus in the group is given a number, which is called an HPV type.

Most HPV types cause warts on the skin, such as on the arms, chest, hands, or feet. Other types are found mainly on the body’s mucous membranes. Mucous membranes are the moist surface layers that line organs and parts of the body that open to the outside, such as the vagina, anus, mouth, and throat. The HPV types found on mucous membranes are sometimes called genital HPV. They generally do not live on the skin.

Genital HPV is not the same as HIV or herpes. HPV is divided into 2 main groups:

Low-risk HPV types

Some types of HPV can cause warts (papillomas) on or around the genitals and anus of both men and women. Women may also have warts on the cervix and in the vagina. Because these HPV types rarely cause cancer, they are called “low-risk” viruses.

High-risk HPV types

Other types of HPV are called “high-risk” because they can cause cancer in both men and women. Doctors worry more about the cell changes and pre-cancers linked to these types, because they’re more likely to grow into cancers over time. Common high-risk HPV types include HPV 16 and 18.

Infection with HPV is very common. In most people, the body is able to clear the infection on its own. But sometimes, the infection doesn’t go away. Chronic, or long-lasting infection, especially when it’s caused by certain high-risk HPV types, can cause cancer over time.

How do people get HPV?

HPV can be passed from one person to another by skin-to-skin contact, such as occurs with sexual activity. The main way HPV is spread is through sexual activity, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. HPV can be spread even when an infected person has no visible signs or symptoms.

The virus can also be spread by genital contact without sex, although this is not common.

HPV infection is very common. Most men and women who have ever had sex get at least one type of genital HPV at some time in their lives. Anyone who has had sex can get HPV, even if it was only with only one person, but infections are more likely in people who have had many sex partners. Even if a person delays sexual activity until marriage, or only has one partner, they are still at risk of HPV infection if their partner has been exposed.

You cannot get HPV from:

  • Toilet seats
  • Hugging or holding hands
  • Swimming pools or hot tubs
  • Sharing food or utensils
  • Being unclean

You can have HPV:

  • Even if it has been years since you were sexually active
  • Even if you do not have any signs or symptoms

Cancers linked to HPV infection

To learn more about any of the cancers listed here, visit our website at or call our toll-free number, 1-800-227-2345.

Cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer linked to HPV in women. Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by HPV.

Cervical cancer can be found early and even prevented with routine screening tests. The Pap test looks for changes in cervical cells caused by HPV infection. The HPV test looks for the infection itself.

Cervical cancer is preventable with vaccines and regular screening tests. More than half of the women in the United States who get cervical cancer have never had or rarely had a Pap test.

Vulvar cancer

HPV can also cause cancer of the vulva, which is the outer part of the female genital organs. This cancer is much less common than cervical cancer.

There’s no standard screening test for this cancer other than routine physical exams.

Vaginal cancer

Most vaginal cancers contain HPV.

Many vaginal pre-cancers also contain HPV, and these changes may be present for years before turning into cancer. These pre-cancers can sometimes be found with the same Pap test that’s used to test for cervical cancer and pre-cancer. If a pre-cancer is found, it can be treated, stopping cancer before it really starts.

Penile cancer

In men, HPV can cause cancer of the penis. It’s more common in men with HIV and those who have sex with other men.

There’s no standard screening test to find early signs of penile cancer. Because almost all penile cancers start under the foreskin of the penis, they may be noticed early in the course of the disease.

Anal cancer

HPV can cause cancer of the anus in both men and women. It’s more common in people with HIV and in men who have sex with other men.

Screening tests for anal cancer are not routinely recommended for all people. Still, some experts recommend anal cytology testing (also called an anal Pap test because it’s much like the Pap test used for cervical cancer) for people at higher risk of anal cancer. This includes men who have sex with men, women who have had cervical cancer or vulvar cancer, anyone who is HIV-positive, and anyone who has had an organ transplant.

Mouth and throat cancer

HPV is found in some mouth and throat cancers in men and women. Most cancers found in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils, are HPV-related. These are the most common HPV-related cancers in men.

There’s no standard screening test to find these cancers early. Still, many can be found early during routine exams by a dentist, doctor, dental hygienist, or by self-exam.

Can HPV infection be prevented?

There’s no sure way to prevent infection with all the different types of HPV. But there are things you can do to lower your chances of being infected. There are also vaccines that can be used to protect young people from the HPV types most closely linked to cancer and genital warts.

HPV is passed from one person to another during contact with an infected part of the body. Although HPV can be spread during sexual contact – including vaginal, anal, and oral sex – sex isn’t the only way for the infection to spread. All that’s needed is skin-to-skin contact with an area of the body infected with HPV. There may be other ways to become infected with HPV that aren’t yet clear.

HPV can be present for years without causing any symptoms. It doesn’t always cause warts or any other symptoms. Someone can have the virus and pass it on without knowing it.

Condom use

Condoms (“rubbers”) provide some protection against HPV, but they do not completely prevent infection.

Condoms must be used correctly every time sex occurs. Even then, condoms can’t protect completely because they don’t cover every possible HPV-infected area of the body, such as the skin on the genital or anal area. Still, condoms do provide some protection against HPV, and they also help protect against some other sexually transmitted infections.

A new condom should be used with each sex act. The condom should be put on BEFORE any genital, oral, or anal contact and kept on until sex is finished.

Limiting sex partners

If you are sexually active, limiting the number of sex partners and avoiding sex with people who have had many other sex partners can help lower your risk of exposure to genital HPV. But again, HPV is very common, so having sex with even one other person can put you at risk.

HPV vaccines

HPV vaccines can prevent infection with certain types of HPV, including types that are linked to HPV-related cancers, as well as types linked to anal and genital warts.

Vaccines are approved for use in males and females. They can only be used to prevent HPV infection – they don’t help treat an existing infection. To work best, the vaccines should be given at or before age 11 or 12.

Contact your American Cancer Society for more on the HPV vaccines.

Testing for HPV

The HPV tests on the market are only approved to find cervical HPV infection in women. They can be used to help test women at certain ages and after certain Pap test findings to help look for cervical cancer.

  • There’s no approved HPV test to find HPV on the penis or vulva, or in the anus, mouth, or throat.
  • There’s no test for men or women to check one’s overall “HPV status.”
  • For cervical cancer screening, the American Cancer Society recommends that women ages 30 to 65 get both an HPV test and Pap test every 5 years. (Another option for these women is just a Pap test every 3 years. While this can find the cell changes caused by HPV, it does not find HPV infection.)

Treatment for HPV or HPV-related diseases

There’s no treatment for the virus itself, but there are treatments for the cell changes that HPV can cause.

Cancer is easiest to treat when it’s found early – while it’s small and before it has spread. Some cancer screening tests can find early cell changes caused by HPV, and these changes can be treated before they even become cancer.

Visible genital warts can be removed with prescribed medicines. They can also be treated by a health care provider.

If You Have Genital Warts

These growths, which are caused by HPV infection, can be raised or flat. They can be small or large. They may be pink or the color of your skin. Genital warts can appear on the cervix, vulva, scrotum, groin, thigh, anus, or penis.

Treating the warts aggressively right after they appear actually isn’t a good idea. More could grow, and you’ll have to treat them again later on.

HPV types 6 and 11, which are linked to genital warts, tend to grow for about 6 months, then stabilize. Sometimes, visible genital warts go away without treatment.

If you need treatment, your doctor can prescribe a cream that you can use at home. There are two options:

  • Podofilox (Condylox)
  • Imiquimod (Aldara, Zyclara)

You’d use podofilox for about 4 weeks. It destroys the wart tissue. Research shows that about 45% to 90% of warts clear up, but sometimes the warts come back.

Imiquimod boosts the immune system so it fights off the virus. It often clears the warts, but not always permanently.

Your doctor can also prescribe other types of wart-removal treatments. Among the options:

  • Cryotherapy freezes off of the wart with liquid nitrogen.
  • Trichloracetic acid is a chemical that’s put on the surface of the wart.
  • She can remove the cells surgically, with a scalpel.
  • She can burn off warts using an electric current (electrocautery).
  • A laser can vaporize the warts.

Having the warts surgically removed may cure the problem in just one visit. Other techniques work about 80% to 90% of the time.

Generally, smaller warts are easier to treat than larger ones. Warts on moist surfaces respond better to treatments that go right on them, compared with warts on drier surfaces.

If your warts don’t go away after several treatments, your doctor might have more tests done to see if something else is going on.

Can you get rid of HPV?

Q&A with Dr. Manny: My OB-GYN recently told me I have HPV. Because I’m over the age limit for the vaccine, is there anything else I can do to help get rid of it?

The human papillomavirus, or HPV, is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States. In fact, it’s so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives.
There are over 100 different kinds of HPV, but only some of them can cause serious health problems like genital warts or cancer of the cervix, vagina, vulva or anus.
We got this question from a viewer:
Dear Dr. Manny,
My OB-GYN recently told me I have HPV. I know it’s extremely common and that your immune system can naturally clear the infection over time, but I’m still freaking out about it. Because I’m over the age limit for the vaccine, is there anything else I can do to help get rid of it?

Testing positive for HPV does not automatically mean you will get cancer. Some studies estimate that 50 percent of those infected with HPV will clear the virus within eight months— and 90 percent will be cured within two years. It’s only when your immune system isn’t able to fight off the infection that some strains of HPV can persist and possibly lead to cancer.
Getting regular screenings and pap tests are important for early detection in women. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved an HPV test for women over 30 years old, but there is currently no HPV test for men.
“If a woman has HPV, there is an increased risk of transmission to her partner,” Dr. Jennifer Landa, an OBGYN and Chief Medical Officer of BodyLogicMD, told “Many partners will never develop any problems, but there is an increasing incidence of oral cancers in men that seem to be transmitted from oral sex with HPV-positive partners.”
Men and women can lower their risk of HPV by getting vaccinated. The FDA has approved three HPV vaccines for use in the U.S., and research has shown they are highly effective against certain strains of HPV that cause health problems like genital warts and cancer. The Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) recommends all boys and girls ages 11 or 12 years should get vaccinated. Because the vaccines work only before you get infected, experts say it’s better for kids to get vaccinated before becoming sexually active.
There is no cure for the HPV virus, but there are several things you can do to help your body clear the virus, and lower your chances of it persisting and turning into cancer.
“You want to do a few things,” Landa said. “First, avoid smoking, and if you smoke, quit smoking. Second, avoid oral contraceptives. Studies show that the birth control pill can increase your likelihood of HPV turning into cancer.”
Women with HPV need to decide with their doctor if they want to stop taking the pill and should finish their current pack before planning for their next method of birth control if they want to protect against pregnancy, Landa suggested.
Birth control in the form of an intrauterine device (IUD) also comes with a warning, Landa said.
“You want to consider using the copper IUD rather than the one that contains hormones. The hormone containing IUD was just shown in a study to reduce clearance of HPV,” she said.
As your immune system is the first line of defense against HPV, boosting it can help fight off the virus naturally.
“I would tank up on certain vitamins,” Landa said. “Several vitamins have been shown to increase the likelihood of clearing the HPV.”
“The first one is B vitamins— especially Folic acid and B12. I would recommend Folic Acid 1000mcg— best form is methyltetrahydrofolate (MTHF). And For B12, I would recommend at least 1000mcg per day in the form of methylcobalamin.”
Landa also suggested taking certain forms of vitamin E.
“I would recommend 400iu, comprised of mixed tocopherols including beta and gamma tocopherols. Most of the vitamin E sold is delta tocopherol, so you want to make sure you’re getting a vitamin E with “mixed tocopherols” that includes the beta and gamma forms to get the results you’re looking for.”

Do you have a health question for Dr. Manny? Please send it to [email protected]

Can you cure HPV once you have it?

There is no cure for an existing HPV infection – HPV (human papillomavirus) is the name given to a group of over 100 related viruses, which is the most common sexually transmitted disease globally (and the second most common in the UK). There is currently no cure for an existing HPV infection, but for most people it would be cleared by their own immune system and there are treatments available for the symptoms it can cause.You can also get the HPV vaccine to protect yourself against new infections of HPV which can cause genital warts or cancer.

Why don’t antibiotics work? – HPV is a viral infection, which cannot be treated by medication designed for bacterial infections. There are currently no antiviral medications that have been clinically approved to treat HPV.

Can you get rid of HPV warts?

Yes it is possible to get rid of the symptoms – genital warts appear when a low-risk HPV infection causes abnormal changes in the skin cells, which develop into painless fleshy growths. While there is no cure for a HPV infection, there are a number of methods available to treat its symptoms, which include:

Topical treatments – prescribed creams and liquid solutions such as Warticon and Condyline contain podophyllotoxin, which is a plant extract that has antiviral properties. These treatments are applied directly to the wart, and work by suppressing the virus and preventing it from spreading and multiplying. Eventually the cells in the wart will die and will be replaced by new skin tissue. You can order topical treatments for genital warts online from Superdrug Online Doctor.

Cryotherapy – visible warts can be frozen off using liquid nitrogen. A doctor will apply nitrogen directly to the wart, which may cause a mild to moderate burning sensation during the treatment. Afterwards the skin on and around the wart will blister, which will dry up and heal over the course of 7-14 days. The wart may fall off during this time, though some warts may need more than one treatment to fully remove.

Acid – trichloroacetic acid can be used to treat visible warts, and is applied directly to the wart by a doctor or other trained medical professional. The acid is used to burn off the growth by destroying the proteins in the cells of the wart. This process is repeated weekly until the wart is completely gone, which can take between 6-10 weeks. This can be used for pregnant patients where other treatments are not safe.

Surgical removal – visible genital warts may be removed by excision, meaning that the warts are surgically removed. After the wart is removed, the skin will then be stitched back together to close the incision. It can take between 2-4 weeks for these incisions to fully heal, and could potentially result in permanent scars. Surgical removal of warts is typically a last resort if other forms of treatment do not work.

Electrocautery – genital warts can be burned off using a low-voltage electrical probe, and anaesthetic is usually applied to manage pain during the procedure. If there are a large number of warts, it may be necessary to be put under anaesthetic so you’re not awake for the procedure. This method of wart removal usually takes 2-4 weeks to heal, though it may take longer if there was a lot of tissue that was burned off.

Laser removal – genital warts can also be treated with lasers, which pulses the wart with light. The light from the laser heats up the red blood cells in the wart and destroys them, depriving the wart of blood and eventually killing it. Laser removal can cause mild pain, though anaesthetic is generally not required, and it takes 2-4 weeks for the skin to heal afterwards. Laser removal is a relatively new method of getting rid of warts, so it’s not known how effective it is in comparison to other methods of wart removal.

Do not use over-the-counter treatments for genital warts – home treatments that you can buy from pharmacies and retailers, such as Superdrug, are designed to treat warts and verrucas that are not on the genitals. Attempts to use these treatments to remove genital warts may result in your symptoms getting worse, or could even cause permanent damage to the genital area. If you want to receive treatment for genital warts, please contact a healthcare professional rather than trying to remove them yourself.

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Can you get rid of HPV flare-ups altogether?

Not without getting rid of the infection – treatments to remove genital warts may be effective in temporarily removing growths, but these forms of removal do not treat the underlying HPV infection that cause the warts to develop. This means that genital warts may flare up again, even after removal. The only way to permanently stop flare-ups of genital warts is to wait for the immune system to clear the HPV infection entirely.

How often do people normally get flare-ups? – genital warts that have been removed, or those that go away without any treatment, may flare-up again after several months if the HPV infection causing the flare ups has not been cleared by the immune system yet.

How can I avoid flare-ups of genital warts? – there’s no evidence that HPV has triggers like herpes or asthma that cause flare ups, but many believe that a weakened immune system can lead to outbreaks being more likely. Genital warts are more likely to flare-up if your immune system is not able to effectively fight the HPV infection causing them to appear.

Can HPV go away on its own?

HPV can clear up naturally – as there is no cure for the underlying HPV infection, the only way to get rid of HPV is to wait for the immune system to clear the virus naturally. 90% of new HPV infections will clear up or become undetectable on their own within two years, and most of these infections will actually clear up in the first 6 months. Long-term infections of high-risk types of HPV, which have the potential to cause cancer, are estimated to occur in only 1% of those infected.

Stronger immune systems may clear HPV quicker – there are lifestyle changes you can make to help boost your immune system, such as dietary changes and exercise, which may have an effect on your body’s ability to clear a HPV infection. However, these lifestyle changes have not been clinically proven to have any direct impact on HPV infection rates or how long it takes the virus to be cleared by the immune system.

Smoking can negatively impact your recovery time – smoking tobacco reduces the immune system’s ability to clear the virus, meaning that existing HPV infections will take longer to clear naturally. Smoking also increases the chance that you will develop long term health complications as a result of HPV, such as genital warts and cancer. Stopping smoking is the only lifestyle change which is proven to have a positive effect on the immune system’s ability to clear infections of both low-risk and high-risk types of HPV.

Can the HPV vaccine cure HPV?

The HPV vaccine cannot cure existing infections – the HPV vaccine is able to prevent future infections of high-risk types of HPV that can cause cancer, and a number of low-risk types that can develop into genital warts. The HPV vaccine is a preventative measure, meaning it can stop future HPV infections, but it cannot kill the virus if you have already been infected. You can get the HPV vaccine at any Superdrug Health Clinic.

The HPV vaccine cannot cause genital warts – the HPV vaccine is not a live vaccine, which means it doesn’t contain any of the live virus. As the vaccine does not expose your body to the live virus, the HPV vaccine cannot cause you to become infected with HPV or lead to genital warts in the future.

Is there any research into cures for HPV?

Yes, there is ongoing research into developing a cure for HPV – while the HPV vaccine has been greatly effective in stopping the spread of certain types of HPV, there is currently no cure for existing HPV infections. Research into developing a HPV cure is showing promising initial results, but it is still in its early stages. At the time this page was published (12/10/2018), research being undertaken includes:

Drug development – ongoing research at the University of Leeds and the University of Birmingham into how HPV infections occur have led to the identification of a specific protein known as STAT3, which allows HPV to infect cells and replicate, and the individual enzymes that activates the protein. By identifying these proteins and enzymes that enables the spread of HPV, scientists can develop drugs that can specifically target them and prevent HPV from infecting other cells.

There are also ongoing clinical trials to prove the effectiveness of lopimune, which is a combination of the antiviral HIV drugs lopinavir and ritonavir, in treating existing HPV infections. Trials carried out in Kenya have shown very promising results so far: after one year, 82% of patients were HPV-negative. The drug is now currently in phase II of clinical trials in the UK.

Therapeutic vaccine – the current HPV vaccine is preventative, meaning it can protect against future HPV vaccinations but cannot treat an existing infection. A therapeutic vaccine works in a similar way to preventative vaccines, but instead it stimulates the immune system to fight an existing infection. There is ongoing clinical trials to develop a therapeutic vaccine for HPV, which will allow for better control of HPV infections and the health complications they can cause.

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