A service provided by the BC Centre for Disease Control

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can occur in the penis or external genitals, vagina or internal genitals, anus, and throat. There are over 40 different types of HPV that can cause infections in these areas.

Some types of HPV cause genital warts. Other types of HPV are more serious and may cause cancer of the cervix, anus, vagina/internal genitals, penis/external genitals, genital area, and throat.  This page has information only about HPV strains that may cause cancer.

HPV can be managed.  It is common within British Columbia.

Causes

HPV is passed though vaginal, oral, and anal sexual contact.  This includes both penetrative sex and sexual activities where there is skin-to-skin contact. You can also get HPV by sharing sex toys.  If you have HPV, you can pass it to others even if you don’t have symptoms.

Symptoms

If you have HPV, it is common to not have any symptoms.  If you do get symptoms, the type of symptoms will depend on where the infection is located.

Tests and Diagnosis

There is currently no routine test for HPV in British Columbia.  Instead, a Pap test is used to screen for cancerous changes in cells. 

People with a cervix should have regular cervical Pap testing done, as recommended by BC Cancer.  If you have receptive anal sex or are living with HIV, some health professionals may recommend that you have regular anal Pap testing.  Talk to your health care provider to figure out what’s best for you.

Treatment

Most HPV infections go away on their own and do not need treatment.  If an HPV infection persists, there are different ways that the cancerous changes in the cells can be treated, depending on how severe the changes are. 

If you have an abnormal Pap result, you may need to have a Pap test more often or go for additional testing.  Pap tests often find changes early enough that treatment can be given before cancer develops.

Sexual Partners

It is up to you whether or not you tell your sexual partners about HPV.  As HPV usually does not have symptoms, and there is no routine test for HPV in BC, there is not much that partners can do beyond following the regular screening recommendations made by BC Cancer.

Complications

Most types of HPV do not cause any health problems.  However, some can cause changes in your cells that can lead to cancer.  Of these types of cancers, cervical cancer is the most likely.

Prevention

The HPV vaccine can help prevent most genital cancers and genital warts. This vaccine is available for people of all genders.  The vaccine will not help get rid of an existing HPV infection, but it can prevent future infections.

It is a good idea to be tested regularly for STIs, especially if you have new sexual partners or open relationships.  Talking with partners about safer sex makes sure everyone knows what to expect.  Condoms are great if they work for you – the correct use of condoms may reduce your chance of getting or passing HPV.

Resources

This 11-page guide has been produced by the BC Centre for Disease Control. You can view, download or print this booklet for more information on HPV, including types of HPV, frequently asked questions about HPV, and HPV prevention, screening and treatment.

HealthLink BC – Information on HPV in multiple languages
HealthLink BC – Information on the HPV vaccine in multiple languages
ImmunizeBC – Detailed information on the HPV vaccine
SmartSexResource – If you are worried or have anxiety about HPV
Trans Care BC – Gender-affirming sexual and reproductive health information

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