HPV (human papillomavirus) is a very common family of viruses. Some strains of genital HPV can cause abnormal changes (dysplasia) in the cells of a woman’s cervix. In a small number of women, these changes can lead to cancer if not treated. Also, certain strains of HPV can cause genital warts (condyloma). Although many people carry HPV, it often causes no symptoms. The virus may first be detected when signs of dysplasia or warts are found during a Pap test.

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How Does HPV Spread?

HPV lives inside skin and mucous membranes. It spreads when skin carrying the virus touches other skin. Genital HPV most often spreads during sexual contact. Condoms and other barriers help protect against the spread by preventing skin contact. But condoms may not cover all affected skin, so they may not provide complete protection. There is no cure for HPV. Even if symptoms go away, the virus may remain in the body. Because it often doesn’t cause symptoms, many people who have HPV don’t even know it.