About the human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer

Understand how human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer are linked.

Page last updated: 28 October 2016

  • The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common infection in females and males.
  • Most people will have HPV at some time in their lives and never know it.
  • There are more than 100 different types of HPV that can affect different parts of the body. HPV types 16 and 18 are most commonly associated with cervical cancer. Genital HPV is spread by genital skin to genital skin contact.
  • Most HPV infections clear up by themselves without causing any problems.
  • Persistent genital HPV infection over a long period of time (more than 10 years) with one or more cancer-causing types of HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer. In fact, 99.7 per cent of all cervical cancers are caused by HPV infection.
  • It is important to remember that most women who have HPV, clear the virus and do not go on to develop cervical abnormalities or cervical cancer.
Read more about The link between cervical cancer and HPV.

Frequently asked questions about HPV

Genital HPV is spread through genital skin to genital skin contact. Condoms are an important barrier to many sexually transmitted infections, but offer limited protection against HPV as they do not cover all of the genital skin.

Because the virus can be inactive in a person’s cells for months or years, for many people it is probably impossible to determine when and from whom HPV was contracted.

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Yes. The best time to be vaccinated is before you become sexually active. Vaccination will not alter or treat any pre-existing HPV infection.

The HPV vaccine is currently available for free in Australian schools to all males and females aged 12-13 years under the National HPV Vaccination Program .

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Yes. The HPV vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV infection that are known to cause cervical cancer.

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No. There is no treatment for the virus. For most women, their body’s immune system will clear the virus, similar to getting rid of a common cold.

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HPV tests are available in Australia but are currently only subsidised by the government when used as part of a ‘test of cure’ for women who have been treated for a high-grade cervical abnormality. The HPV test is done to make sure the virus has been cleared from your body.

After 1 May 2017, the HPV test will be listed for subsidy under the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) and will become the main cervical screening test. Before 1 May 2017, women who have an HPV test that is not a ‘test of cure’ will have to pay for the test.

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