Genital Warts (HPV) in Women

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

View the Sexually Transmitted Diseases Slideshow

Quick GuideSexually Transmitted Diseases: HPV, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Herpes, HIV

Sexually Transmitted Diseases: HPV, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Herpes, HIV

How common is HPV infection?

HPV infection is now considered to be the most common sexually-transmitted infection (sexually transmitted disease, STD) in the U.S. It is thought that at least 75% of the reproductive-age population has been infected with sexually-transmitted HPV at some point in life. It is believed that over 6 million people become infected with HPV every year in the US, and approximately 50% of those infected are between the ages of 15 and 25.

HPV infection is common and does not usually lead to the development of warts, cancers, or even symptoms. In fact, the majority of people infected with HPV have no symptoms or lesions at all. Determination of whether or not a person is infected with HPV involves tests that identify the genetic material (DNA) of the virus. Furthermore, it has not been definitely established whether the body's immune system is able to permanently clear the body of an HPV infection. In many cases, a person will test positive for HPV infection and then have negative HPV tests for months to years, only to have a positive test result at a later time. It is presently unclear if this is due to a latent (continuing but hidden) viral infection or if the person has become re-infected with the virus.

Asymptomatic people infected with HPVs (those without HPV-induced warts or lesions) are still able to spread the infections to others through sexual contact.

It is important to note that in the U.S. and other developed countries, screening and early treatment of precancerous changes of the cervix have dramatically reduced the incidence of cervical cancer. In developing countries lacking the medical infrastructure or financial means to implement a screening program, the incidence of cervical cancer resulting from HPV infection is much higher. In fact, cervical cancer develops in around 500,000 women each year worldwide, and, in many countries, it is the most common cause of cancer deaths.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/9/2015

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