What is HPV?
HPV stands for human papillomavirus and is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI).
HPV often has no symptoms and goes away by itself, but HPV can sometimes cause serious illness.
Most sexually active people (about nine out of 10) will have an HPV infection at some time in their lives. However, many people won’t have any symptoms and may never know they’ve had it. People of all genders and sexual identities can get HPV.
Having the HPV vaccination at a young age can help protect you against most HPV-related cancers and illnesses in the future.
HPV is commonly spread through genital-skin contact during sexual activity through tiny breaks in the skin.
You can be exposed to HPV the first time you are sexually active with another person. You can get HPV even if you have had only one sexual partner.
HPV can remain dormant for many years. This means people in long-term monogamous relationships or people who have not been sexually active for many years can still get HPV.
Condoms offer some protection from HPV but do not cover all genital skin. This means HPV can still be transmitted. Condoms are still important for practicing safe sex as they do protect you from many other sexually transmitted infections.
Testing for HPV
Cervical Screening Tests look for the presence of HPV in women and people with a cervix. Sexual health check-ups do not test for HPV.
There is no treatment or cure for HPV. That’s why it’s so important to have the HPV vaccination. The HPV vaccine used in Australia is called Gardasil ®9. It protects you against the most common types of HPV that can cause disease.
In most cases, the immune system clears HPV from your body naturally (usually within a year) and it has no long-lasting effects.
Sometimes, if an HPV infection persists it can cause cell changes in your body that may lead to cancer. Almost all cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV.
Women and people with a cervix who have ever been sexually active need to have regular Cervical Screening Tests every five years once they turn 25 until the age of 74, even if you’ve had the HPV vaccine.
The Cervical Screening Test looks for the presence of HPV. If HPV is detected early, it can be monitored and any cell changes in your cervix that are caused by HPV can be treated early.
Learn more about cervical cancer
Learn more about cervical screening
HPV and cancer
In some cases, if an HPV infection persists it can cause damage to the cells in your body. These cell changes may lead to cancer.
There are many different HPV types but only some can potentially cause serious illnesses such as cancer.
- Almost all cervical cancers
- 90 per cent of anal cancers
- 78 per cent of vaginal cancers
- 25 per cent of vulvar cancers
- 50 per cent of penile cancers
- 60 per cent of oropharyngeal cancers (cancers of the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils).
HPV and genital warts
About 90 per cent of genital warts cases are caused by HPV. Genital warts are caused by the types of HPV which do not cause cancer. Having genital warts does not mean you are at risk of cancer.
Genital warts used to be a very common sexually transmitted infection in Australia, especially in young people.
But since the HPV vaccine was introduced in 2007, genital warts have become much less common.
In most cases, genital warts can be treated by your doctor.