• Help & Advice
  • Find a Service
    Close icon


Find out about the symptoms, causes and treatment of HPV. 

What is HPV? 

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name of a very common group of viruses. They do not cause any problems in most people, but some types can cause genital warts or cancer. 

There are over 100 different types of HPV which can affect different parts of the body. About 30 different types of HPV can affect the genital skin but 90% of genital warts are caused by two types of the virus (types 6 and 11). 

Signs and symptoms of HPV

HPV does not usually cause symptoms. Most people who have it do not realise and do not have any problems.  

However, sometimes the virus can cause genital warts, which are small growths or bumps that appear on or around the genital or anal area.  

Conditions linked to HPV

Most of the time HPV does not cause any problems. However, some types of HPV can cause: 

  • Genital warts
  • Abnormal changes in the cells that can sometimes turn into cancer 

The causes of HPV and how it’s passed on

HPV is very common; most people will get some type of HPV in their life. Because it has no symptoms, most people won’t know that they have it.  

You can get HPV from: 

  • Any skin-to-skin contact of the genital area 
  • Vaginal, anal or oral sex 
  • Sharing sex toys

How to protect against HPV 

You cannot fully protect yourself against HPV, but there are things that can help. 

  • Condoms can help protect you from HPV but the virus may still be passed on by the surrounding genital areas coming into contact. 
  • The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that cause most cases of genital warts and cervical cancer, as well as some other cancers. It does not protect against all types of HPV. 

The HPV vaccine
There is a vaccination programme that is offered to all young people aged 12 to 13 to protect against some of the different strains of HPV. This involves two doses, at least 6 months apart, of the HPV vaccine Gardasil. You need to have both vaccine doses to be fully protected.

Gardasil 9, the current HPV vaccine offered under the NHS, protects against 9 types of HPV (6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58). This means the vaccine protects against strains that are the most common cause of cervical cancer (16 and 18) and those that are the most common cause of genital warts (6 and 11).

The HPV vaccine programme has resulted in a fall in genital warts and cervical cancer.  

Find out more about the HPV vaccine and who can have it 

Testing for HPV

HPV is tested for by cervical screening. Cervical screening (also known as a smear test) is when a doctor or nurse uses a soft brush to take a sample of cells from your cervix. The cervix is the opening to your womb from your vagina. These cells are then tested for certain types of HPV that are ‘high risk’.  

Screening is offered to women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 64. It helps protect them against cervical cancer. 

Some sexual health clinics may offer anal screening to men with a higher risk of developing anal cancer, such as men who have sex with men. 

This is different from testing for genital warts. Find out more about genital warts here.

Treatment of HPV

There’s no treatment for HPV. Most HPV infections do not cause any problems and are cleared by your body within two years. 

Treatment is needed if HPV causes problems like genital warts or changes to cells in the cervix. 

  • On this page

    Other Stuff you might find useful…


    Talking to people about STIs


    Having great sex (safely!)


    12 common mistakes when using condoms


    How do I use a condom?


    Talking about condoms with your partner

    Our friendly staff are here to help
    Find a Service near you

    100% free & confidential