HPV in Women
Human papillomavirus (HPV) occurs quite frequently in women -- in fact, it's one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. While infection with HPV may not cause symptoms in many cases, the presence of genital warts is a sure sign of infection. An abnormal Pap test result can also be a sign of HPV, but further follow-up tests are often necessary to make an accurate diagnosis.
Human papillomavirus, or HPV for short, belongs to a group of viruses that can infect the skin and mucous membranes of both men and women. These infections may cause no symptoms, produce warts, or be associated with a range of different noncancerous growths or cancer.
Genital HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the United States. At least 50 percent of sexually active men and women get genital HPV at some point in their lives. In addition, at least 80 percent of women will have been infected by genital HPV by the time they turn 50.
Women get genital HPV through skin-to-skin and genital contact, primarily during vaginal and anal intercourse. It might also be possible to acquire it during oral sex.
This article focuses on genital HPV in women.
Not everyone infected with HPV will develop symptoms. In fact, most women with low-risk types of genital HPV never know they are infected because they don't get warts or any other symptoms. But if signs or symptoms do occur, they can include genital warts, precancerous changes, or, in rare cases, cancer.
Genital warts can be flat and flesh-colored or look bumpy, like cauliflower. They often occur in clusters or groups. In addition, they can cause itching, burning, and discomfort.
Genital warts can grow inside and around the outside of the vagina, on the vulva (the "lips" or opening to the vagina), the cervix, groin, and in or around the anus. Genital warts can grow in the mouth or throat of a person who has had oral sex with an infected person, but this is rare.
(Click HPV Symptoms for more information.)