Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), Cancer, HPV Testing, and HPV Vaccines : Frequently Asked Questions

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Can HPV be prevented?

Completely avoiding contact of the areas of your body that can become infected with HPV (like the mouth, anus, and genitals) with those of another person may be the only way to keep from becoming infected with HPV. This means not having vaginal, oral, or anal sex, but it also means not allowing those areas to come in contact with someone else’s skin.

For those who are young or haven’t started having sex or have not yet been infected with HPV, getting the 3-shot HPV vaccine can prevent some types of HPV. See the section “HPV vaccines” for more on this.

Having fewer sex partners and avoiding sex with people who have had many other sex partners helps lower a person’s risk of exposure to HPV.

Condoms can help protect you from HPV, but HPV might be on skin that’s not covered by the condom. And condoms must be used every time, from start to finish. The virus can spread during direct skin-to-skin contact before the condom is put on, and male condoms don’t cover the entire genital area, especially in women. The female condom covers more of the vulva in women, but hasn’t been studied as carefully for its ability to protect against HPV. Condoms are very helpful, though, in protecting against other infections that can be spread through sexual activity.

It’s usually not possible to know who has HPV, and HPV is so common that even these measures do not guarantee that a person won’t get it. Still, they could help reduce the number of times a person is exposed to HPV.

If you find out that you have HPV, you may want to let your partner know. Tell them that HPV is a very common virus and that most people who have sex will get HPV. Again, most people don’t even know they have it. If they do, they usually don’t know when they got it or from whom.

Last Medical Review: 05/02/2013
Last Revised: 05/02/2013