Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)

What is it? There are many different strains of this virus. One of them causes genital warts, which occur inside the vagina or anus and on the penis.

How can I catch it? The virus is transmitted by skin–to–skin contact and, like herpes, transmission may occur without any visible warts. Similarly, many people do not develop warts after infection.

Symptoms: Genital warts inside the vagina or anus and on the penis. Though many people do not develop warts after infection.

What are the risks? The virus has been shown to cause cervical cancer in women. The strains that cause warts are not the strains that have been linked to cancer.

Screening and vaccination

There is an HPV vaccine, however it is expensive (around ?450 for 3 injections). You can discuss this with your GP. In the UK teenage girls have typically already received free HPV vaccinations in school and this scheme is in the process of being rolled out to the boys as well. (There is also a programme being rolled out that offers free HPV vaccinations to gay and bi men, but this appears to be happening very slowly – contact the LGBT+ officer for more information.)

What is cervical screening? Cervical screening is not a test for cancer. It is a method of preventing cancer by detecting and treating early abnormalities which, if left untreated, could lead to cancer in a woman’s cervix (the neck of the womb). The first stage in cervical screening is taking a sample using liquid based cytology (LBC).

How does cervical screening work? A sample of cells is taken from the cervix for analysis. A doctor or nurse inserts an instrument (a speculum) to open the woman’s vagina and uses a spatula to sweep around the cervix. Most women consider the procedure to be only mildly uncomfortable.

Why should I get screened? Early detection and treatment can prevent 75% of cancers developing but like other screening tests, it is not perfect. It may not always detect early cell changes that could lead to cancer.

Who is eligible for free screening? All women between the ages of 25 and 64 are eligible for a free cervical screening test every three to five years.

How frequently should I get tested? The NHS Cervical Screening Programme offers screening at different intervals depending on age. This means that women are provided with a more targeted and effective screening programme.

The new intervals are:

  • Under 25 years old: First invitation for screening
  • 25-49: Screened every 3 years
  • 50-64: Screened every 5 years
  • 65+: Only screen those who have not been screen since age 50 or have had recent abnormal tests

The NHS call and recall system invites women who are registered with a GP. It also keeps track of any follow–up investigation, and, if all is well, recalls the woman for screening in three or five years time. It is therefore important that all women ensure their GP has their correct name and address details.

Women above 25 years old who have not had a recent test may be offered one when they attend their GP or family planning clinic on another matter. Women should receive their first invitation for routine screening at 25.

If you have any questions, speak to your nurse or doctor, or see the sexual health useful conctacts list. To book a sexual health screen online visit