Te huaketo papilloma tangata (HPV) Human papillomavirus (HPV)

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name of a common group of viruses. It is passed on by skin-to-skin contact. People usually have HPV without any symptoms. Different types of HPV can cause genital warts, cervical cancer, and other cancers.

Symptoms of HPV

Most people will have human papillomavirus (HPV) at some stage in their life.

People with HPV usually:

  • do not have symptoms
  • do not know they have it
  • have no problems or complications.

Most HPV infections becomes undetectable within 2 years.

There are over 200 types of HPV — most are low-risk and only 14 types are high-risk.

  • Low-risk types of HPV can cause genital warts or mild changes to cervical cells.
  • High-risk types of HPV can cause changes in cells that over time may turn into cancer if left untreated.

Genital warts

Some types of HPV can cause growths or lumps around the anus or genitals — vagina, penis, or testicles. These are called genital warts.

Irregular cells or cancer

Some types of HPV can cause changes to the cells of the cervix. These are different types of HPV than those that cause warts. Cell changes themselves do not usually cause symptoms.

Cell changes sometimes progress to cancer if they are not found or treated. Cervical cancer is the most common cancer caused by HPV.

Regular cervical screening can help catch irregular cells early. These cells are usually treated successfully to prevent cancer.

Find more information on cervical cancer, the symptoms, diagnosis, where to screen and treatment.

Cervical screening — Time to Screen (external link)

HPV can also cause vulval, vaginal, penile, anal or head and neck cancer.

How HPV spreads

Some types of HPV affect the mouth, throat or genital area. HPV is easy to pass on or get from someone else.

You do not need to have penetrative sex to get HPV.

You can get it from:

  • any skin-to-skin contact of the genital area, including hand-to-genital
  • vaginal, anal or oral (mouth-to-genital) sex
  • sharing sex toys.

In very rare cases, the virus can be passed on to a baby when someone with HPV gives birth.

Using condoms consistently has been shown to reduce the risk of getting HPV and genital warts and is recommended for sex with new people.

Diagnosing HPV

Because HPV rarely causes symptoms, it is important to get regular cervical screening tests to find out if you have HPV.

Cervical screening looks for the 14 high-risk HPV types that cause cell changes that may lead to cervical cancer. This is available to women, wāhine, or anyone with a vagina or cervix, aged 25 to 69.

You usually have 2 screening options:

  • a vaginal swab — you can either self-test, or a health professional can help
  • a cervical sample (previously known as a smear test) — taken by a health professional.

The vaginal swab is quick and easy to do. But you might prefer a cervical sample, or your healthcare provider might suggest it.

For more information visit the Time to Screen website. 

Screening options — Time to Screen (external link)

Your HPV result will usually come back within 1 to 2 weeks — 90% will have a result of 'HPV not detected'.

There is no screening test for the other types of cancer caused by HPV.

Where to go

It is up to you where you get your screen. Your choices include:

  • your usual doctor or nurse at a GP clinic, if you have one
  • Māori, Pacific or women’s community health centres
  • outreach services, like marae or mobile units
  • Sexual Wellbeing Aotearoa clinics
  • sexual health services.

Find out more options on where to go or how to get support.

Where to go Time to Screen (external link)

If you have HPV

If your cervical screening finds HPV, then the cells of the cervix need to be checked for changes.

If you did a vaginal swab or self-test

You may be asked to see a healthcare provider to take a cervical sample. You will be referred to colposcopy if either:

  • certain types of HPV are found on your swab sample
  • high-grade cell changes are found on your cervical sample.

If you had a cervical sample taken

The cells will automatically be checked by the lab. You will be referred to colposcopy if either:

  • certain types of HPV are found
  • high-grade cell changes are found.

Grades of cervical cell changes — Time to Screen (external link)

Colposcopy and treatment

If cervical screening finds that you have abnormal cells, you might need treatment. Treatment depends on the type of HPV you have, and how it is affecting your body.

If you need a colposcopy

If your cervical screen test shows an abnormal result, you may be referred to colposcopy. A colposcopy is a specialist procedure to look at your cervix. During colposcopy a specialist doctor or nurse looks at the cells on your cervix using a microscope called a colposcope.

It is important to go to your colposcopy appointment even if you do not have any symptoms, as abnormal cells may develop into cancer if left untreated.

Colposcopy — Time to screen (external link)

If you need treatment

If your test shows that you have abnormal cells, your healthcare provider will recommend different treatment options depending on your results. Treating abnormal cells makes it unlikely that cancer will develop in the future.

Types of treatment — Time to Screen (external link)

Preventing HPV

The HPV vaccine (Gardasil 9) is very effective at preventing infection from 9 types of HPV — the 2 types that cause genital warts and 7 of the highest risk types that cause cancers.

As HPV is common, the best way to protect your tamariki against HPV is to get them immunised. This is free for people age 9 to 26. People aged 27 to 45 years old can also get the vaccine at a cost.

Find out about the vaccine, who can get it and when to get it.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine  (internal link)