The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that can affect the upper layers of the skin and the mucous membranes, specifically, a type of cell called a keratinocyte. There are about 120 different types of the virus, the vast majority of which cause no symptoms. However, some can cause skin outbreaks, such as warts, and, in rare cases, they can cause cancer, typically of the cervix in women, but also of the vagina, penis, throat and anus. However, due to the common nature of the infection, it is estimated HPV is responsible for about 500,000 cancers worldwide every year. It has also been linked to certain types of cardiovasular disease.
A good proportion of HPV infections are sexually transmitted and frequent infections are linked with cancerous growths. However, most HPV infections are harmless and resolve themselves within 1-2 years.
The recent development of an HPV vaccine, administered at the age of 12, has significantly reduced the number of infections in the developed world and is expected to eliminate up to 70% of cervical cancers.