The human papilloma virus (HPV) is not one virus but actually a collection of viruses that infect the skin. While there are more than 100 types of HPV, around 30 of these affect the genital area and these are the ones known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as they are spread through sexual activity. HPV is extremely common and usually harmless with eight out of ten people being infected at some point in their lives. However, some types are known to lead to cancer. The routine cervical smear test for women checks to see if HPV is developing into cancer.
While most types of HPV are harmless, 12 high-risk strains can cause cancer, with cervical cancer in women being the most common. Of the 3,100 cases of cervical cancer diagnosed each year, almost all are caused by HPV. However, other cancers such as vaginal, vulval, anal, penile, mouth and throat can be caused by HPV. Although the link is usually made between HPV and cervical cancer in women, it can also cause cancer in men.
If you are sexually active, yes, even if you have only had sex with one person. HPV is extremely common, affecting 8 out of 10 people at some point in their lives with 16-25-year-olds particularly at risk. For most people it is harmless, symptomless and leaves the body of its own accord. All girls aged 12-18 are offered a free vaccination against the two most 'high risk' types of HPV. As you, or your partner, may not know HPV is present, it can be passed on unknowingly and easily.
Last updated July 3, 2018