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Signs and Symptoms

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What are the signs, symptoms and potential health consequences of HPV?

Most people with HPV do not develop symptoms or health problems from it. In 90% of cases, the body’s immune system clears HPV within two years. But there is no way to know which people who get HPV will go on to develop health problems.

  • Sometimes, certain types of HPV can cause genital warts in males and females. Rarely, these types can also cause warts in the throat -- a condition called recurrent respiratory papillomatosis or RRP.
  • Other HPV types can cause normal cells in the body to turn abnormal, and might lead to cancer over time. These HPV types can cause Cervical cancer and other, less common cancers, including cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and oropharynx (back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils).

The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the types that can cause cancer.

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What are the potential health problems of HPV?

Genital warts usually appear as a small bump or groups of bumps in the genital area. They can be small or large, raised or flat, or shaped like a cauliflower. Health care providers can diagnose warts by looking at the genital area during an office visit. Warts can appear within weeks or months after sexual contact with an infected partner—even if the infected partner has no signs of genital warts. If left untreated, genital warts might go away, remain unchanged, or increase in size or number. Warts will not turn into cancer.

Cervical cancer usually does not have symptoms until it is quite advanced, very serious and hard to treat. For this reason, it is important for women to get regular screening for cervical cancer. Screening tests can find early signs of disease so that problems can be treated early, before they ever turn into cancer.

Other HPV-related cancers might not have signs or symptoms until they are advanced and hard to treat. These include cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and oropharynx (cancers of the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils).

RRP causes warts to grow in the throat. It can sometimes block the airway, causing a hoarse voice or troubled breathing. Although rare, RRP can occur among adults and children.


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