Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a common virus that can lead to 6 types of sexually transmitted cancers later in life. You can protect yourself from ever getting these cancers by getting the HPV vaccine before age 26.


HPV is a group of more than 150 related viruses. At least 40 of these types are known to cause genital infection and HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. Most sexually active persons will be infected with HPV at least once in their lifetime.  Most HPV infections are self-limited and are asymptomatic or unrecognized. Some HPV types can cause genital warts and are considered low-risk, with a small chance of causing cancer. Other types are considered high risk; these have the potential to progress to cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, or the back of the throat.  


Most of the time, people get HPV from having vaginal and/or anal sex. Men and women can also get HPV from having oral sex or other sex play. A person can get HPV even if their partner doesn’t have any signs or symptoms of HPV infection. A person can have HPV even if years have passed since he or she had sexual contact with an infected person. Most people do not realize they are infected. They also don’t know that they may be passing HPV to their sex partner(s). It is possible for someone to get more than one type of HPV.


Most often there are no symptoms. Warts can be various shades of brown, gray, or pink. They may be clustered (resembling cauliflower), raised bumps, or semi-flat formations. Often there is no visible evidence that the virus is present. In females, HPV can infect the vulva, vagina, cervix, perineum, urethral opening and rectal area. In males, HPV can affect the penis, urethra, scrotum, and surrounding area, as well as in and around the rectum. 


Women carry a higher risk of developing complications related to HPV. Certain HPV types are co-factors in the development of cervical cancer. Before the development of cancer, various degrees of dysplasia (abnormal cell growth) can be detected on cervical Pap smears and can be treated before they progress to cancer. Vulvar, vaginal, rectal, and penile cancers have also been associated with the HPV virus, but these are not as common as cervical cancer. Patients may feel the emotional impact of having HPV; we have many resources to assist you with this. Please call for an appointment to discuss your concerns.

Some HPV infections can lead to cancer

Most HPV infections (9 out of 10) go away by themselves within two years. But, sometimes HPV infections will last longer, and can cause certain types of cancers. HPV infections can cause cancers of the:

  • cervix, vagina, and vulva;
  • penis,
  • anus, and
  • back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (oropharynx).

Every year in the United States, HPV causes 33,700 cases of cancer.


Presently, there is no routine test available to confirm the presence or absence of HPV. Examination of the genital area remains the best means of identification for genital warts. HPV testing is limited to women who have abnormal pap smears or to help determine the timing of the next pap smear.

There is no HPV testing available for men. There is much about HPV that is still unknown. Recent research indicates HPV infection frequently may last for several years, not life-long as previously suspected. Because routine tests are not available and re-infection occurs frequently, it is difficult to offer the assurance of an infection-free state that most people would desire. 

Get the HPV vaccine

Everyone should get the HPV vaccine before the age of 26. 

  • Students with SHIP: make an appointment with the Immunization clinic through the eTang Portal to get the HPV vaccine. 
  • Students without SHIP:
    • Students with other types of insurance can also make an appointment with the Immunization clinic, pay fees out of pocket, and get a receipt for possible reimbursement from their insurance, or 
    • Students can contact their primary care physician and ask about options for getting the HPV vaccine.

Resources to learn more about HPV