Human papillomaviruses (HPV) are a group of more than 100 viruses.

Certain types of HPV can cause genital warts, which are growths or bumps that appear:

  • On the vulva
  • In or around the vagina or anus
  • On the cervix
  • On the penis, scrotum, groin, or thigh

Some strains of HPV are linked to cervical cancer. Although it is less common, some strains are linked to cancers of the vulva, anus, throat, and penis.

HPV is easily spread during oral, genital, or anal sex with an infected partner.

Many people will be exposed to a form of HPV at some point in their lives. Not all will become infected or develop symptoms.

The HPV vaccine contains virus-like particles that are not infectious. These particles produce antibodies to prevent HPV from infecting cells. The vaccine is given by injection into the muscle.

The vaccine Gardasil protects against four types of HPV strains. It may be used to prevent the following conditions:

  • Cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, and anus
  • Genital warts
  • Precancerous lesions on the genitals (in women)

Another vaccine called Cervarix protects against two types of HPV strains. It is used to prevent cervical cancer and cervical precancer in women.