Today is International HPV Awareness Day. On this dedicated day, ask yourself: ‘how much do I know about HPV?’. To help raise awareness surrounding HPV, Better2Know is here to dispel seven common myths.

HPV stands for the ‘Human Papillomavirus’, of which there are around 140 different strains. Some of these strains can be sexually transmitted. When the virus is sexually transmitted, it can be passed through sexual contact, sexual intercourse or the exchange of bodily fluids.

HPV is very common, and for most people, it will not cause a problem. However, some cases of HPV can become chronic, leading to more serious health implications.

This HPV Awareness Day, Better2Know aims to help our readers understand more about HPV by busting some common myths. So, let’s get clued up!

MYTH: All types of HPV can cause cancer

FACT: Whether an HPV infection can become cancerous or not depends on whether it is a high-risk or low-risk strain. There are at least 14 high-risk strains of HPV, which are associated with the development of cancers. For example, 99.7% of cervical cancer cases occur as a result of a chronic HPV infection. Other types of cancer associated with HPV include anal, penile, vaginal, mouth and throat cancers.

On the other hand, low-risk strains of HPV are very common. It is the low-risk strains which can cause genital warts that may require treatment, but often do not pose a serious risk to long-term health.

Doctor in white lab coat with a pink collar and pink bow.

MYTH: Men can’t catch HPV

FACT: One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding HPV is that only women can contract the virus. This misunderstanding derives from the strong association between HPV and cervical cancer.

Men can have and transmit both high-risk and low-risk strains of HPV. In men, low-risk types can lead to genital warts, while high-risk types can lead to cancers of the penis, anus and throat, although these are relatively rare.

Unlike women, men are not routinely tested for HPV. However, those who are at higher risk such as men who have sex with men (MSM) may consider getting tested for HPV.

MYTH: If I had an HPV infection, I would have symptoms

FACT: Low-risk strains of HPV may appear in the form of genital warts, but an HPV infection often does not present itself with any symptoms. Therefore, testing for both high-risk and low-risk strains is important. Women should attend regular cervical screens to look for abnormal cells or changes within the cervix.

If you have any genital pain or abnormal bleeding, it is important to include an HPV test to find out if an HPV infection could be the cause.

MYTH: I have been vaccinated against HPV, so I don’t need to have a PAP smear

FACT: An HPV vaccine can protect against several high-risk and low-risk types of the virus, including those associated with cancers and genital warts. However, the vaccination does not protect against all high-risk strains, nor any HPV types that you may already have, so it remains extremely important for women to attend their cervical screenings.

MYTH: If I use a condom during sex, I will not catch HPV

FACT: HPV can be passed through sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal and oral sex, as well as skin-on-skin contact. Practising safer sex is always a good idea to protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but it is important to know that condoms are not 100% effective and do not protect the skin around the genitals, so HPV can still be passed.

MYTH: HPV can be cured with medication

FACT: The HPV virus cannot be specifically cured. However, pre-cancerous lesions, genital warts and cancers can often be treated. In some cases, the immune system will clear up an HPV infection on its own over time. In other cases, warts or lesions can be removed either surgically or by using liquid nitrogen to freeze them off.

MYTH: HPV can be detected with a blood test

FACT: Unlike other viruses such as HIV or Hepatitis, there is no blood test available to detect HPV. Instead, HPV is tested for with a swab.

Speak to Better2Know in confidence

If you are worried about HPV, Better2Know can help you. We offer confidential HPV testing at our nationwide clinics, as well as convenient home sample collection kits for low-risk types which cause genital warts or a vaginal swab for high-risk types.

You can contact our sexual health advisors at any time by phoning the number at the top of the page or sending a message using our live chat.


[1] Ask About HPV: What you need to know about HPV

[2] Healthline: Human Papillomavirus (HPV) in Men

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