Image of Everlywell HPV Test to use if experiencing symptoms of HPV

HPV Symptoms: What Are the Symptoms of HPV in Females?

Dec 28, 2023. Medically reviewed by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

Table of contents

Sexually transmitted infections remain a common problem throughout the United States, and the single most prevalent one is HPV, or human papillomavirus. [1]

HPV can be contracted no matter your gender, but women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) are at a higher risk of severe complications—like cervical cancer—if they get it. [1] Testing is one of the best ways to identify an HPV infection, as the sexually transmitted infection STI often presents with no observable symptoms. [1]

Below, we’ll discuss why HPV is the most prevalent STI in the US and explore how you can minimize your risk of infection.

Understanding HPV

Human papillomavirus is a highly contagious virus estimated to impact 42.5 million Americans, with some 14 million people newly infected annually. [2] It’s primarily transmitted through skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity, where it can infect [2]:

  • The vagina, vulva, and cervix in women and people AFAB
  • The penis and scrotum in men and people assigned male at birth

In addition to the genital area, HPV can also infect the anus and rectum. [2] Some forms of HPV can even impact other areas of the body, like the mouth, throat, hands, and feet. [3]

What makes HPV so insidious is that it often doesn’t present with symptoms, even if it impacts a specific area of the body like your genitals. [2] Certain strains of HPV produce genital warts on the affected area, though these usually arise weeks or months after you’ve been infected. [2]

Why Is HPV So Prevalent?

HPV is especially common because there are more than 100 forms of the virus, putting virtually anyone who is sexually active at risk of contracting it. [2] As such, most people who get it are late adolescents or young adults in their early 20s—when it’s less common to make STI testing and safe sexual practices a hallmark of sexual hygiene. [1]

As contagious as HPV is, some 9 out of 10 cases of HPV are relatively harmless. [1] Often, these cases go away on their own (typically within 2 years of infection) without the need for clinical intervention. [1]

That said, certain forms of HPV can be dangerous for long-term health, especially for women. This is because some strains of HPV can lead to cervical cancer, as well as other forms of cancer across genders (like throat cancer). [1]

Symptoms of HPV in Women

Most HPV infections do not present with any signs or symptoms. Often, the immune system will neutralize the infection before it has a chance to manifest symptomatically—the sole exception being genital warts. [1]

Warts are simply growths on the skin or in mucus membranes. The appearance of HPV warts can vary based on the HPV type you’re infected with, but they can usually be identified by [4, 5]:

  • A cauliflower-like appearance (clustered warts)
  • Color that’s skin-toned, brown, or pink
  • Itchiness or discomfort at the location of the warts
  • Swelling
  • Bleeding, especially during or after sex

Genital warts are one of the most common types of HPV-related warts. These growths can appear anywhere near the genital area. In women and people AFAB, they’re usually visible on the vulva, though they can also develop inside the vagina, on the cervix, or around the anus.

Are Genital Warts Dangerous?

Genital warts are largely harmless and usually go away on their own, but they are highly contagious. [4] Often, these warts are mistaken for blemishes or another unrelated skin condition. If you think you may have them, it’s important to seek out a diagnosis from a healthcare provider.

The good news is that genital warts are caused by both HPV type 6 and 11, which are categorized as “low-risk” forms of the virus. [6, 5] They’re significantly less dangerous and aren’t associated with cervical cancer. [5]

That said, genital warts can be uncomfortable, irritating, or embarrassing. Many people seek treatment for genital warts—typically surgery or other removal therapies—for cosmetic reasons and to reduce their risk of passing the virus to another person through sexual contact. [4]

High-Risk HPV and Cancer

The greatest concern regarding HPV is high-risk strains—those that could potentially increase your risk of cancer. [2] Not all cases of high-risk HPV result in cancer, but they can make you more vulnerable to it down the line.

Unfortunately, like other forms of HPV, high-risk HPV typically does not show any symptoms until it has already progressed in severity. Several types of cancer associated with HPV in women include [7]:

  • Anal cancer – Approximately 90% of anal cancer cases are caused by HPV infection.
  • Throat cancer – Approximately 70% of throat cancer cases (also called oropharyngeal cancer) are caused by HPV infection.
  • Vaginal cancer – Approximately 75% of vaginal cancer cases are caused by HPV infection.
  • Vulvar cancer – Approximately 69% of vulvar cancer cases are caused by HPV infection.

Cervical cancer is one of the biggest concerns for women infected with HPV. Almost all cases of cervical cancer are linked to HPV infections. [7] Early-stage cervical cancer can sometimes be detected with abnormal vaginal bleeding, like bleeding between periods or after sex, as well as pelvic pain. [8]

How is HPV Diagnosed in Women?

HPV can only be tested for using cells retrieved from the cervix—it’s administered as a cervical cancer screening. [9, 1] As such, there’s no HPV test available to men and people AMAB. [10]

Cervical screening is recommended for all women and people AFAB who are older than 30 years old. [1] However, some women only discover they’ve been infected after receiving abnormal Pap test results. [1]

Preventing HPV and Cervical Cancer in Women

Though the connection between HPV and cervical cancer is indisputable, the good news is that most cancers caused by HPV take a long time to develop. In some cases, cervical cancer can take upwards of 20 years to develop after an HPV infection. [11] With regular screenings, it can be caught and managed early.

Pap smears and HPV tests are highly effective in identifying and preventing cervical cancer. These should be performed at least:

  • Every 3 years for women between 21 and 65
  • Every 5 years for women over the age of 30

Older women may also get HPV testing instead of a Pap smear. [12]

Most importantly, receiving the HPV vaccine is the single most protective measure you can take against both HPV and cervical cancer. While getting the HPV vaccine won’t cure an existing infection, it can help defend against the types of HPV that are most associated with cancer and genital warts. [13]

Screen for HPV At Home with Everlywell

Regular screening is the best way to identify HPV and address it before it becomes a serious health hazard.

With the Everlywell HPV Test, women and people AFAB can test for 14 high-risk types of HPV. With a simple sample retrieval process and physician-reviewed results, you’ll find out your sexual health status with greater ease and convenience, all from the comfort of your own home.

Explore the complete range of Everlywell Sexual Health at-home tests today to get started.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022b, April 12). Std Facts - Human papillomavirus (HPV). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed December 19, 2023.
  2. C.C. Medical. (n.d.). HPV (human papillomavirus): Causes, symptoms & treatment. Cleveland Clinic. URL. Accessed December 19, 2023.
  3. Parenthood, P. (n.d.). What is HPV & how do you get it?. Planned Parenthood. URL. Accessed December 19, 2023.
  4. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2023, June 30). Genital warts. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed December 19, 2023.
  5. C. C. Medical. (n.d.-a). Genital warts: Causes, symptoms, treatment & prevention. Cleveland Clinic. URL. Accessed December 19, 2023.
  6. Parenthood, P. (n.d.-a). What are the symptoms & signs of HPV?. Planned Parenthood. URL. Accessed December 19, 2023.
  7. HPV and cancer. National Cancer Institute. (n.d.). URL. Accessed December 19, 2023.
  8. What is cervical cancer?. National Cancer Institute. (n.d.-b). URL. Accessed December 19, 2023.
  9. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2023b, October 28). HPV test. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed December 19, 2023.
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, April 18). Std Facts - HPV and men. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed December 19, 2023.
  11. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (n.d.). HPV infection. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed December 19, 2023.
  12. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2022, June 18). Pap smear. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed December 19, 2023.
  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, November 16). HPV vaccination: What everyone should know. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed December 19, 2023.

Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT is most fulfilled when guiding others towards making stepwise, sustainable changes that add up to big results over time. Jordan works with a wide variety of individuals, ranging in age from children to the elderly, with an assortment of concerns and clinical conditions, and has written for publications such as Innerbody. She helps individuals optimize overall health and/or manage disease states using personalized medical nutrition therapy techniques.
Everlywell makes lab testing easy and convenient with at-home collection and digital results in days. Learn More