What is HPV?

Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the name for a group of viruses that affect your skin and the moist membranes lining your body.

Examples of this include your:

  • cervix
  • anus
  • mouth and throat

There are more than 100 types of HPV. Around 40 types of HPV infection can affect the genital area.

Genital HPV infections are common and highly contagious. They're spread during sexual intercourse and skin-to-skin contact of the genital areas.

What can HPV infection do?

Infection with some types of genital HPV can cause:

  • genital warts – the most common viral sexually transmitted infection (STI) in England
  • abnormal tissue growth and other changes to cells within your cervix – this can sometimes lead to cervical cancer

Girls aged 12 to 13 are offered a vaccination against HPV to help protect them against types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer.

Women aged 25 to 64 are offered cervical screening to check for abnormal cells in the cervix.

HPV can also cause a number of different types of cancers in men, such as:

Men who have sex with men (MSM) are thought to be at particular risk of developing these types of cancer.

The NHS now offers free HPV vaccination for MSM up to and including the age of 45. Contact your local sexual health clinic for details.

From the 2019/2020 school year, it is expected that 12- to 13-year-old boys will also become eligible for the HPV vaccine.

The first dose of the HPV vaccine will be offered routinely to boys aged 12 and 13 in year 8, in the same way that it is currently offered to girls.

Offering the vaccine to boys will help prevent more HPV-related cancers in both girls and boys.

Other types of HPV infection can cause minor problems, such as common skin warts and verrucas.

Further information

Page last reviewed: 09/08/2018
Next review due: 09/08/2021