Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, is a virus that infects the skin and genital area. More than 120 types of HPV have been identified. Some infect the skin and can produce warts, some infect the genital area and can produce genital warts, and some infect the genital area and can lead to cancer of the cervix, the opening of the uterus. HPV can also cause cancers of the vagina or vulva (women), anus, mouth and throat.
Most sexually active women will acquire an HPV infection over a lifetime. Cervical HPV infection is detected in 5%-40% of asymptomatic women of reproductive age. The vast majority of these infections will clear shortly on their own. A substantial increase in risk of high-grade cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (cervical pre-cancer) exists for women with long-term persistent infection with oncogenic HPV types. The most common oncogenic HPV types are 16 and 18.
Currently, vaccination is the primary method of preventing HPV infection. However, it only targets up to 4 HPV types and it only prevents infection among individuals who have never been exposed.