HPV (human papilloma virus)

Human papilloma virus (HPV) is a virus. There are more than 100 different types of the HPV virus.

Infection by high risk HPV is the cause of 99 per cent of all cases of cervical cancer – the second most common cancer affecting women worldwide.

Gardasil is a vaccine that has been developed to protect against the high risk HPV types 16 and 18. It provides very effective protection against these two high risk types of HPV and therefore reduces the chance of developing cervical cancer. Additionally, it protects against the low risk HPV types 6 and 11 that cause genital warts.

The vaccine is available to all girls aged 12–13 years through a school programme. Vaccination is not routinely recommended for those aged 19 or over, but some women may benefit from vaccination. Ask your doctor or a sexual health expert for advice.

FPA supports calls for the vaccination programme to be extended to boys. See below, Why aren't boys included in the HPV vaccination programme?

The school vaccination programme is only available to girls. This is because the vaccination was introduced with the aim of reducing cervical cancer in women. However, there is increasing evidence that HPV infection is linked to anal, oropharyngeal (mouth and throat), penile and vulval cancers as well as cervical cancer.

FPA would like to see gender-neutral vaccination so that men, as well as women, will be protected against HPV-related cancers and genital warts.

Three doses of vaccine need to be given before sexual activity starts and the risk of HPV infection increases. The second and third dose will be given one month after and then four to six months after the initial dose. The full course should be completed within 12 months. The vaccine is given in the upper arm or thigh.

Skin reaction at the injection site is common: you might experience mild to moderate pain, and stinging and redness which is limited to a small area. These effects usually do not last long.

It is not yet known how long the vaccine will protect you for.

Yes. Women who have been vaccinated are not protected against all HPV types and must still have regular cervical screening tests, as recommended by the NHS screening programme.

Yes. It will protect against two types of HPV that cause 90% of genital warts.

No. Some HPVs cause non-cancerous skin warts that commonly appear on the hands and feet.

About 40 HPVs affect the genital area and these are divided into those which are low risk for cervical cancer and those which are high risk for cervical cancer.

Low risk types, such as HPV 6 and 11, cause non-cancerous genital warts. High risk types – the types most like to cause cervical cancer – include HPV 16 and 18.

You can get infected with genital HPV through skin-to-skin contact which means you can get it through sexual activity. Condoms help protect against HPV infection but because condoms don’t cover all of the genital area you may not be completely protected.

The majority of genital HPV infections never cause any symptoms and in most cases the immune system clears the infection in a few months. However, when the infection becomes persistent – as it does in a small number of women – it can lead to pre-cancerous cell changes in the cervix.

The progression from a normal cervix to pre-cancerous cell changes takes many years in most women and not all women with cell changes go on to develop cervical cancer. Regular cervical screening tests will pick up cell changes that could potentially progress to cancer.

No, this is unlikely. There is often a misunderstanding about the difference between high risk HPV, which can cause cervical cancer, and low risk HPV, which causes genital warts.

The types of HPV that cause genital warts do not cause cancer.

As a charity, FPA relies on support from people like you. If you found this page helpful please consider making a donation. Text 'FPAA11 £3' to 70070 to donate £3 or see other ways to donate. Thank you.