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What is HPV?

What is HPV?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus and most people will have it at some point in their lives. In most cases, our immune system can get rid of the virus without us ever knowing we had it. Sometimes HPV infections can cause cells in the cervix to become abnormal. Usually, our body can get rid of the abnormal cells and the cervix returns to normal. But sometimes this doesn’t happen, and the abnormal cells can go on to develop into cancer.

For more information on HPV, visit PHE Cervical screening.

How do people get HPV?

HPV is a very common infection among people who have been sexually active at some time in their life. It is easily transmitted during sexual contact between men and women and between partners of the same sex. The virus shows no symptoms, so it is possible that

  • someone may have had the infection for many years without knowing about it
  • a partner may have been infected years earlier and, again, be unaware of it.

How do I know if I have HPV?

The only way to test for HPV is with a special test. This test will only tell you if you had HPV at the moment it was taken. It does not tell you whether HPV is causing abnormal cells to develop. Further testing is needed to find this out. You will be invited for these tests if you have an abnormal HPV result on the study.

What is the point of testing for HPV?

Women who do not have HPV are extremely unlikely to develop cervical cancer over the next several years. Women who test positive can have further tests to find out if HPV has caused abnormal cells to develop on their cervix. If abnormalities are found, they can then be treated well before a cancer could develop.

Can I get treatment for HPV?

No, there isn't a treatment to get rid of the virus. For most women, their immune system will get rid of HPV - like getting rid of a common cold. But we can treat abnormal cervical cells, especially if they are found early on. Most types of cervical cancer take a long time to develop. Treating abnormal cells early on means that cervical cancer can be prevented.

Did my partner give me HPV?

HPV is a very common infection among people who have been sexually active at some time in their life. It is easily transmitted during sexual contact between men and women and between partners of the same sex. The virus shows no symptoms, so it is possible that someone may have had the infection for many years without knowing about it a partner may have been infected years earlier and, again, be unaware of it.

Can I give HPV to my partner?

Partners who have been together for a while tend to share HPV. This means that your partner likely has HPV already, even though your partner may have no signs or symptoms.