What is HPV?

HPV stands for human papillomavirus. It is a common virus that can cause a variety of health problems, including genital warts and various types of cancer, such as cervical cancer.

HPV is also the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI, also known by the older term sexually transmitted disease or STD) in the world. 3 out of 4 sexually active people will become infected with HPV at some point in their life, and most are infected before the age of 25.

Although there are over 100 different types of HPV, most of these cause only minor health problems. Most types of HPV do not cause any symptoms and go away on their own. But about 40 types of HPV that affect the genital area can lead to health problems that could have a major effect on your daughter's life. To learn more about the health conditions caused by HPV and how they could affect your daughter, go to "HPV and the diseases it can cause."

Certain high-risk types of HPV can lead to:

  • cervical cancer
  • cancer of the vagina or vulva (the outside of the female genital area)
  • abnormal or precancerous cells (that may later turn into cancer) on the cervix, vagina, or vulva

Other low-risk types of HPV lead to genital warts. They're called "low-risk" because they are unlikely to cause cancer.

Is my daughter at risk?

Your daughter may be at risk of HPV as soon as she becomes sexually active. Most HPV infections happen before the age of 25.
  • The most common way to spread HPV is through skin-to-skin contact with the genital area of an infected person during sexual activity. The virus can be spread even if she doesn't actually have sex. HPV is not transmitted through blood.
  • The virus can be spread very easily so it's important to let your daughter know that condoms should be worn during any sexual activity. Not only will condoms help protect her against HPV, but they can protect against other sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV. Unfortunately, condoms alone do not completely protect against HPV because they do not cover all of the affected skin areas.
  • Being in a monogamous relationship, where neither partner has skin-to-skin genital contact with anyone else, will not necessarily protect your daughter from getting HPV at some point in her life. She or her partner may already have caught HPV from genital contact during a previous relationship. See how HPV can spread among partners by using the "Six degrees of HPV" tool.

To protect your daughter, talk to her about HPV and how it is spread, and talk to your doctor about ways you can help protect your daughter from HPV, cervical cancer, and genital warts. It is important to take an active role in discussing HPV with your doctor so that your daughter can be protected from HPV. Get tips for talking to your daughter about HPV.