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Cancer Risk and Prevention

HPV Signs and Symptoms

HPV (human papillomavirus) may not cause any symptoms. Since this virus is spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact, someone who has HPV might not know it unless they are getting routine testing or if they develop signs and symptoms.

How does a person know if they have HPV?

Women and other people with a cervix can be tested for HPV infection.

An HPV test looks for cervical infection from high-risk types of HPV that are more likely to cause pre-cancers and cancers of the cervix.

  • HPV testing is usually done by a health care provider using a special tool to gently scrape or brush the cervix (lower part of the uterus) to remove cells for testing. This is done during a routine pelvic exam.
  • Another option might be for a person to use a kit to collect a vaginal sample themselves for HPV testing, while being supervised by a health care provider. Testing in this way is called self-collection and does not require a pelvic exam.

A Pap test is a different test, but the sample is collected in the same way as an HPV test done by a health care provider. The difference is what the lab tests look for in the sample. A Pap test is used to find cell changes or abnormal cells in the cervix, while an HPV test is used to look for HPV infection. A Pap test cannot detect HPV.

When testing is done only for HPV, this is called a primary HPV test. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved certain tests to be primary HPV tests.

When HPV testing is done at the same time as a Pap test, this is called a co-test.

Learn more in HPV Testing.

What are the symptoms of HPV?

If a person gets HPV, the virus may or may not cause signs or symptoms, depending on which HPV type has infected the person and where the infection is. In most people, the body’s immune system is able to get rid of or control the HPV infection on its own. But sometimes, the infection doesn’t go away.

Certain people are at higher risk for HPV-related health problems. This means if they are infected with HPV, they are more likely to have symptoms or other problems. This includes  people with weak immune systems (including those who have HIV/AIDS).

If HPV does cause symptoms, the symptoms will depend on which type it is – cutaneous (affecting the skin) or mucosal (affecting the genitals, mouth, or throat).

Possible symptoms of cutaneous HPV types

Cutaneous HPV types live on the skin. These types of HPV can cause warts on areas such as the arms, chest, hands, or feet.

Possible symptoms of mucosal HPV types

Mucosal HPV types live inside the body on mucous membranes. Mucous membranes are the moist surface layers that line organs and parts of the body that open to the outside, such as the lining of the vagina, anus, mouth, and throat.

Low-risk mucosal HPVs can sometimes cause cauliflower-shaped warts around the genitals or anus. High-risk mucosal HPVs can eventually cause some types of cancer.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Human Papillomavirus (HPV). 2023. Accessed at on February 13, 2024.

Fontham, ETH, Wolf, AMD, Church, TR, et al. Cervical Cancer Screening for Individuals at Average Risk: 2020 Guideline Update from the American Cancer Society. CA Cancer J Clin. 2020.

National Cancer Institute. HPV and Cancer. 2023. Accessed at on February 13, 2024.

Palefsky JM. Human papillomavirus infections: Epidemiology and disease associations. UpToDate. 2023. Accessed at on February 13, 2024.

Last Revised: April 30, 2024

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