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Cervical Cancer Screening in Women Ages 30 and Older

HPV Basics

What Is HPV?

HPV is a virus that is very common. It can infect the genitalThe reproductive organs, especially the external sex organs. areas of both men and women. It usually has no signs or symptoms and goes away on its own.

What Can HPV Do to My Body?

HPV can infect the genital areas in different ways:

  • Some HPV types can cause changes on a woman’s cervix that can lead to cervical cancer over time.
  • Other HPV types can cause changes that lead to genital warts in men and women. But the HPV types that can cause genital warts are different from the types that can cause cervical cancer.

Most of the time, HPV goes away by itself within 2 years and does not cause health problems. It is thought that the immune system fights off HPV naturally. Experts do not know why HPV goes away in most, but not all cases. It is only when HPV remains in the cervical cells for many years that it can cause cervical cancer.

How Could I Get HPV?

HPV is passed on through genital or skin-to-skin contact, most often during vaginal or anal sex. Most people never even know they have HPV. So it may not be possible to know who gave you HPV or when you got it. HPV is so common that most people get it soon after they start having sex. And it may only be found years later.

Therefore, all women who ever had sex are at risk for cervical cancer.

HPV is not the same as HIV (the AIDS virus) or herpes. Both of these viruses can be passed on during sex, but they do not cause the same symptoms or health problems.