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Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common family of viruses that is mainly passed between people through skin-to-skin, intimate sexual contact, such as intercourse, or oral and digital sexual activity or touching, from a partner of any gender.

There are over 100 "types" of HPV. Some HPV types can cause genital warts, but do not cause cancer. These are commonly referred to as low-risk HPV types. Other, high-risk HPV types can cause cancer of the cervix and some other rare cancers (e.g., penis, vulva, anus or mouth).

Facts About HPV

  • HPV is very common. About 3 out of every 4 people – males and females – who have had sex have been exposed to HPV at some point in their lives.
  • Usually there are no symptoms and people do not know they have HPV. This makes it hard to know when and how you were exposed to the virus.
  • The infection usually goes away on its own within 1 to 2 years. However, in some cases an HPV infection may persist.
  • Sometimes infection with HPV, whether or not it is a cancer-causing type of HPV, causes cells on the cervix to become abnormal.
  • HPV infections and these early cell changes usually cause no symptoms and would go undetected without cervical screening.
  • Over a number of years, a persistent cancer-causing type of HPV infection can slowly cause cell changes that can lead to cervical cancer, unless found and treated.
  • The HPV test is currently not publicly funded.
  • Until the HPV test is publicly funded, it is recommended that the Pap test continue to be used for cervical screening.