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Can HPV go away?

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Can it go away?Can it come back?SymptomsTreatments PreventionSummary
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is usually sexually transmitted. Most people won’t know they have it, and it usually goes away without causing any symptoms.
Medically reviewed by Stacy A. Henigsman, DO
Written by Nadia Zorzan
Updated on

HPV is a type of viral infection passed between people through skin-to-skin contact and therefore easily transmitted. It’s also one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but it often doesn’t cause any symptoms.

Because of this, you might not even know you have it. Your body can naturally get rid of the virus by itself in time without any treatment.

Can it go away?

A young couple, one holding the other's face in her hands. representing the conversation about whether HPV can go away.
Delmaine Donson/Getty Images

In 90% of cases, your immune system gets rid of HPV within 2 years without it causing any symptoms or leading to any complications. But if HPV does not go away, it can cause health problems such as genital warts or lead to complications like cancer. These two conditions are a result of different types of HPV.

Genital warts can appear as small growths or bumps on your skin. These can appear as single warts or small groups of warts resembling a small cauliflower. These are treatable and can go away.

HPV-related cancers include cervical cancer (most commonly), alongside cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus, and head and neck cancers. They can take many years to develop, but if caught early enough, they are treatable.

Usually, people with weakened immune systems who are less able to fight off HPV are more at risk of developing these health conditions.

Can it come back?

Occasionally, dormant HPV can become active again. This usually happens when your immune system weakens or when your body is undergoing psychological stress.

Some older research from 2013 suggests that the reactivation risk may increase around the age of 50, especially in women at or after menopause.

Also, you may find genital warts reappearing after several months, even if a healthcare professional previously removed these or if they cleared without treatment. This may be due to the virus not yet having been cleared by your immune system.

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Symptoms

HPV infection often does not cause any noticeable symptoms or health problems, so it may be difficult to detect. You may only find out you have HPV when you develop the following symptoms:

Genital warts

These may appear as small skin bumps or even a cluster of bumps that differ in size and appearance. They may itch, burn, or cause general discomfort.

These bumps may appear on your:

  • vulva
  • cervix
  • penis or scrotum
  • anus
  • groin area

Lumps, sores, or growths may also appear in your mouth or throat.

A healthcare professional can usually diagnose genital warts by looking at them. They can then suggest a treatment method if necessary.

Precancers

IF HPV lingers and infects the cells of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus, it may cause cell changes. These cell changes are known as precancers, which means that they can develop into cancer if a healthcare professional does not remove them in time.

Precancerous changes caused by HPV at the cervix rarely cause symptoms. Women may find out they have HPV when they get an abnormal Pap test result during cervical cancer screening.

Precancerous lesions in other areas of the body may cause symptoms such as bleeding or pain.

Treatments

There is no treatment for HPV, as the infection usually goes away on its own. Still, there are treatments for the conditions HPV can cause.

Genital warts

Doctors and nurses can prescribe creams for you to apply at home. Alternatively, they may apply a chemical to treat the warts. These might include immunomodulating medications that irritate the tissues and stimulate an immune response to fight the virus, such as imiquimod (Zyclara) and podofilox (Condylox)

Another option is surgery. This may involve the doctor burning the warts with an electrical current, freezing them with liquid nitrogen, using a laser to destroy them, or cutting out the warts.

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Cervical precancer

A doctor may use a loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP), which is a thin wire loop to remove the precancerous growths on the surface or in the canal of the cervix, which connects the vagina and uterus. You should receive a follow-up appointment 6 months after treatment.

Other HPV-related precancers

The doctor may apply liquid nitrogen to the tumor to freeze and kill the cells in a procedure known as cryosurgery. Alternatively, your doctor may use a specialized light treatment called photodynamic therapy (PDT).

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Prevention

You can take various routes to prevent contracting HPV. These include:

  • using condoms or other barrier methods
  • limiting the number of sexual partners
  • not having sex while you have genital warts

You can get vaccinated against genital warts and cancers caused by HPV. The Gardasil 9 vaccine protects you against infection from these strains of HPV.

Boys and girls around the age of 11 or 12 can get the vaccination, and they can get it as early as age 9. The vaccine consists of two doses which the doctor will administer 6–2 months apart.

Men and women ages 15 to 26 can also get the vaccine on a three-dose schedule.

Also, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently approved the Gardasil 9 vaccine for people between the ages of 27 and 45 who have not previously been HPV vaccinated.

Summary

HPV usually has no symptoms and, in most cases, goes away within two years. If the immune system does not clear the virus, it may linger and cause other health conditions such as precancers.

Symptoms of HPV include the appearance of warts which healthcare professionals can treat with prescription medication such as creams. Other forms of treatment include chemicals, freezing, surgery, or laser treatment.

You can prevent HPV by getting the vaccine and always using condoms or other barrier methods.

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