What is HPV?

HPV is a common virus that is spread through sexual contact. HPV infection can be serious. It can cause cancers, including cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis and anus, and some head and neck cancers. Types 16 and 18 cause up to 80% of the cervical cancers in women and up to 90% of HPV-related cancers in men.

Types 6 and 11 cause approximately 95% of genital warts.

Not all HPV infections lead to cancer.

Symptoms

Most people infected with HPV do not have any symptoms.

Some types of HPV can cause genital warts, which appear as small growths on or around the genitals and anus. The warts may be:

  • flat or raised
  • single or multiple
  • clustered.

If you are infected with a type of HPV that causes cancer, the virus can cause changes to the cells. This can eventually lead to cancer. There are usually no symptoms, but some people may notice:

  • bleeding after sex
  • pain during sex
  • abnormal period, vaginal bleeding or discharge
  • pain in the pelvis.

Who is at risk

Anyone who is not vaccinated and is sexually active is at risk of getting HPV.

How it spreads

HPV spreads when you have sexual contact with someone who is infected with HPV.

Use of condoms during sex can give partial protection and help stop HPV spreading further.

Prevention

Vaccination safely and effectively protects you against the types of HPV that most commonly cause cervical cancer or genital warts. Wearing a condom during sex helps to give some protection.

In women, vaccination helps protect against cervical cancer, some vaginal, vulval and anal cancers and genital warts. The vaccine protects against 9 types of HPV that are the most common cause of cervical cancers and genital warts in Australia. It does not protect against all types of HPV.

Regular cervical screening for women is another important way to protect against cervical cancer. Even if you have had the HPV vaccine, all women between the ages of 25 and 74 who have ever been sexually active should have regular cervical screening tests.

In men, vaccination helps protect against genital warts and some anal, penile and throat cancers.

Find out more about getting vaccinated against HPV.

Diagnosis

Your doctor can diagnose HPV or the disease that it causes by:

  • checking your symptoms
  • doing an examination
  • doing a cervical screening test, if you’re a woman. A positive HPV test from cervical screening does not mean that you have cancer.
  • Potentially taking a biopsy.

Treatment

HPV infections with no symptoms have no specific treatment, but most clear up within a year. Cervical HPV infections can be followed up to check that they have cleared. Follow-up treatment will also address any changes in the cervix before cancer develops.

Your doctor can help you treat visible genital warts with cryotherapy (freezing the warts off), or some antiviral lotions or creams. If this does not work, and the warts are severe, they can be removed by laser treatment in a hospital.

This treatment can only treat visible warts. Further warts can re-appear even after treatment.

Contacts

For more information about immunisation, visit our immunisation contacts page.

Resources 

What we are doing

We are working on several initiatives to improve how we prevent, screen, treat, monitor and manage HPV. These include the:

Last updated: 
4 September 2019