What’s HPV?

Here we have some basic information about Human Papiloma Virus (HPV), a prevalent virus that affects millions worldwide, with over 200 different types identified. It’s primarily transmitted through sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex.

HPV is incredibly common, with the majority of sexually active individuals encountering it at some point in their lives. While most HPV infections clear on their own without causing any symptoms or health issues, some strains can lead to genital warts or various cancers, including cervical, anal, penile, and throat cancers. Vaccines are available to protect against certain high-risk HPV strains, significantly reducing the risk of associated cancers.

Regular screening, such as Pap tests for cervical cancer, is essential for early detection and treatment of HPV-related abnormalities. Education and awareness are crucial in combating the spread of HPV and its associated health risks.

Key facts

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name of a group of 200 known viruses. They do not cause concerns in most people, but infection with some high-risk types is common and can cause genital warts or cancer.
  • In 90% of people the body controls the infection by itself. Persistent HPV infection with high-risk HPV types is the cause of cervical cancer and is associated with cancers of the vulva, vagina, mouth/throat, penis and anus.
  • HPV infection causes about 5% of all cancers worldwide, with an estimated 625 600 women and 69 400 men getting an HPV-related cancer each year.
  • Prophylactic vaccination against HPV can prevent these cancers. In addition, HPV-screening and treatment of pre-cancer lesions is an effective way to prevent cervical cancer.  

FAQ: HPV at a Glance

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a common group of viruses with diverse strains, each carrying its own implications. Here’s a brief overview:

By Gender: Female & Male

HPV in Women

  • Genital Warts: Some types of HPV can cause genital warts, which are growths or lumps that appear on the genital and anal areas. These warts are usually not cancerous.
  • Cervical Cancer: Certain high-risk types of HPV can lead to cervical cancer. Regular Pap smears and HPV tests are important for early detection and prevention of cervical cancer.
  • Other Cancers: HPV can also cause cancers of the vulva, vagina, anus, and oropharynx (back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils).

HPV in Men

  • Genital Warts: Like in women, men can develop genital warts if infected with certain types of HPV. These warts may appear on the penis, scrotum, or around the anus.
  • Throat Cancer: Men, especially those who have sex with men, are at an increased risk of developing HPV-related cancers in the throat.
  • Penile Cancer: Although rare, HPV infection can contribute to the development of cancer of the penis.

Global figures


In general, HPV poses the greatest risk to women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) because high-risk HPV can progress to cervical cancer if it’s not treated. Pap smears and HPV tests can detect precancerous cell changes early to prevent cancer in your cervix. Harmless forms of HPV can also cause genital warts in people who are AFAB.


HPV poses fewer health risks to men and people assigned male at birth (AMAB). If you’re AMAB, HPV can cause genital warts, but most infections clear on their own. HPV can lead to cancers of your penis, anus, head and neck, but these cancers are rare.

The highest prevalence of cervical HPV among women is in sub-Saharan Africa (24%), followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (16%), eastern Europe (14%), and South-East Asia (14%) (2). Prevalence in men is highly variable based on sexual trends.

Cervical cancer was the fourth leading cause of cancer and cancer deaths in women in 2020, with an estimated 604 127 new cases and 341 831 deaths worldwide .

Cervical cancers account for 93% of HPV-related cancers in women .

Globally, it is estimated that getting an HPV-related cancer each year.

  • 625 600 women and
  • 69 400 men

new study has been published in The Lancet Global Health showing that almost 1 in 3 men over the age of 15 are infected with at least one genital human papillomavirus (HPV) type, and 1 in 5 are infected with one or more of what are known as high risk, or oncogenic, HPV types. 

The global pooled prevalence was 31% for any HPV and 21% for high-risk HPV. HPV-16 was the most prevalent HPV genotype (5%) followed by HPV-6 (4%). HPV prevalence was high in young adults, reaching a maximum between the ages of 25 years and 29 years, and stabilized or slightly decreased thereafter.

HPV is responsible for

  • almost all cases of genital warts and cervical cancer
  • 90% of anal cancers
  • 78% of vaginal cancers
  • 25% of vulvar cancers
  • 50% of penile cancers
  • 60% of oropharyngeal cancers

How HPV is spread

You do not need to have penetrative sex.

You can get HPV from:

  • any skin-to-skin contact of the genital area
  • vaginal, anal or oral sex
  • sharing sex toys

Symptoms of HPV

HPV does not usually cause any symptoms.

Most people who have it do not realise and do not have any problems.

Screening tests are used to check for a disease or condition when there are no symptoms. The goal of screening is to find health problems early, when they may be easier to treat.

Understanding HPV involves acknowledging its dual nature—manifesting as both harmless warts and potentially life-threatening cancers. Vigilance through vaccination, safe practices, and regular screenings remains our most potent defense against the multifaceted impact of HPV.

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