What is HPV?

3 min read

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 30 types of HPV infection can affect the genital area.

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

What can HPV infection do and how can I prevent the risks?

Infection with some types of genital HPV can cause:

But the HPV vaccine can protect you against several types of HPV, including the viruses that cause more than 95% of cervical cancers, most anal cancers and some genital, head and neck cancers.

Recent research published in the Lancet in 2021 showed that the HPV vaccine has helped to reduce cervical cancer rates by almost 90% in women in their 20s who were offered the vaccine at age 12 to 13 years in England, compared to those who are unvaccinated.

In the UK, as of 2019 the HPV vaccine is offered to boys and girls aged 12 to 13 at school. The first dose is given in Year 8 and the second is given 6 to 24 months later. It’s important to have both doses.

If you miss the vaccine at school, you may still be able to get it. Women born after 1 September 1991 and men born after 1 September 2006 can get the vaccine for free until their 25th birthday.

Men who have sex with men (MSM) who are 45 or younger are also able to get the HPV vaccine for free from sexual health and

clinics. Trans women (women who were assigned male at birth) can get it in the same way. And trans men (men who were assigned female at birth) aged 45 or younger can have it if they have sex with men.

All women and people with a cervix between the ages of 25 and 64 can also have regular

cervical screenings
(smear tests), to check for high-risk types of HPV. If these are found, more tests will be done to check for abnormal cells. If necessary, these can be treated to help prevent you from getting cancer.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.