Hesperian Health Guides

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)

a health worker with a speculum talking to a woman in lying in a bed
A sample swabbed from the cervix is used to test for HPV.

There are many kinds of human papilloma virus (HPV). Some types of HPV cause genital warts. A few types of HPV are more dangerous and can cause cancer of the cervix, cancer of the throat. or cancer in the anus. Most people with HPV have no visible signs of the virus.

Simple screening tests can show if there are abnormal cells on the cervix caused by HPV. But even if tests find HPV, it does not mean there is cancer.

A safe and painless treatment called cryotherapy freezes and kills the abnormal cells on a woman’s cervix so they do not develop into cancer. For more information about testing for and treating cancer of the cervix, see the chapter on Cancer.

A vaccine can protect against the most dangerous types of HPV, including the types that cause most genital warts. A series of vaccinations, given usually between the ages of 9 and 26 years old, prevents getting or spreading HPV infections that can lead to cancers. See the chapter Vaccines Prevent Illness.

This page was updated:16 Oct 2019