If you have been diagnosed with the human papillomavirus (HPV), know someone who has or just want to know more about it, this page will give you the key facts and figures about the virus.

In our HPV section, you will learn what HPV is as well as its relationship to cancer and other conditions. See our Prevention, Treatment, and HPV and Cancer pages and printable guides through our HPV Fact Sheets for more information.

WHAT IS HPV?

Human papillomavirus, commonly known as HPV, is a virus transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact. Nearly all men and women will have at least one type of HPV at some point in their lifetime. In most people, the body is able to clear the virus, but persistent infection with HPV is associated with multiple cancers and other diseases. HPV targets the cells of the skin and mucous membranes, making them unhealthy.

HPV FAST FACTS

  • HPV causes six different types of cancer.
  • HPV is transmitted by intimate skin-to-skin contact.
  • HPV can also be spread to a newborn during birth.
  • Nearly all sexually active adults will have at least one type of HPV at some point in their lifetime.
  • HPV causes dysplasia (which means abnormal changes in cells) much more commonly than it causes cancer. These changes can be categorised as high or low risk for developing into cancer. Both precancer and warts are types of dysplasia.
  • HPV causes recurrent respiratory papillomatosis.
  • There are three vaccines to prevent HPV: Gardasil 9, Gardasil and Cervarix.

HPV causes a majority of anal cancer (93%), cervical cancer (96%), oropharyngeal cancer (63%), vaginal cancer (64%) and vulvar cancer (51%), as well as some penile cancer (36%). Studies have also found HPV DNA in tumours of the oral cavity, larynx and lung.

In the United States, nearly 80 million individuals are infected with at least one strain of HPV. This is one in four Americans, making HPV the most common sexually transmitted infection in the US. About 14 million people in the US become newly infected with HPV each year.

In the UK, HPV is present in one in three people and 90% of individuals will come into contact with some form of the virus in their lifetimes. HPV causes over 60,000 cases of anogenital warts and cervical, anal, penile, vulval, vaginal, head and neck and oral cancers in the UK each year.

Most HPV types do not pose any risk to the infected individual. The immune system is able to clear about 90% of HPV infections within two years. Many people are totally unaware that they are or were even infected.

However, HPV can be dormant for decades and then reactivate, sometimes in relation to the strength of a person’s immune system. One study from Johns Hopkins University found that 85% of infections are found during periods of abstinence and monogamy.

HPV is not the same virus as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or the herpes simplex virus (HSV).

HPV AND CANCER

Worldwide, infection with cancer-causing HPV accounts for 5% of all cancers.

HPV causes six different cancers with anal and cervical cancers as the most common. Oropharyngeal, penile, vaginal and vulvar cancers are also caused by HPV.

HPV causes over 30,700 new cases of cancer in the US and over 7,000 new cases of cancer in the UK.

Every hour and fifteen minutes in UK, every twenty minutes in the US, and every eight seconds in the world someone is diagnosed with an HPV-related cancer. With prevention methods like vaccination and screening, we can get that number to zero.

For more information about HPV and cancer, please see our page on HPV and Cancer.

HPV-RELATED MALIGNANCIES

While cancer is the most severe consequence of infection with HPV, millions of people suffer other HPV-related malignancies. These include dysplasia, genital warts and recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP).

Only cervical dysplasia is routinely reported in the US and the UK, however HPV-related dysplasia can also occur on the anus, penis, vagina, vulva and head and neck. There are studies for incidence in certain portions of the population that can be used to extrapolate data about dysplasia on these other sites.

Cervical dysplasia is categorised into different types. According to the CDC, there will be 300,000 cases of high-grade intraepithelial lesions (HSIL) and 1.25 million low-grade intraepithelial lesions (LSIL) of the cervix every year.

Estimates of warts cases in men and women are imprecise. The CDC reports that annually there will be 360,000 diagnoses of anogenital warts but estimates of new wart diagnoses can reach 1,000,000.

In the UK, screening statistics from England report that 1.5% of Pap smears conducted revealed mild dyskaryosis or dysplasia, (also known as CIN1 or in the US, LSIL), 0.4% of smears revealed moderate dyskaryosis (CIN2), and 0.6% of smears revealed severe dyskaryosis (CIN3). CIN2 and CIN3 are also known as HSIL in the US as well.

HPV also causes about 39,250 new cases of anogenital warts in women and 47,550 in men in the UK every year.

For more information on HPV-related malignancies and precancer, please see our pages on Treatment for Precancer and Treatment for Warts.

RECURRENT RESPIRATORY PAPILLOMATOSIS

Recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP) is a disease that occurs when warts grow in the respiratory tract (nasal passages, throat).

HPV types 6 and 11 cause RRP. There are about 20,000 cases in US. Almost 2,000 children contract RRP each year, often when a mother with genital warts passes the virus to the child during the birth process. In the UK, it is estimated that 600 males and 600 females are living with RRP caused by HPV.

Hoarseness is the most common symptom of RRP. Warts can also block airways and cause breathing difficulties. There is no cure for RRP but surgery will remove the warts. RRP has a tendency to recur.