Human papillomavirus (HPV) may not always cause genital warts. However, HPV can still spread through sexual contact even without the presence of warts.

HPV is a group of viruses that rarely causes symptoms. Most people with HPV do not know they have it. In some people, HPV can lead to the development of small, painless growths called warts.

Some high risk types of HPV can also lead to an increased risk of certain types of cancer. However, HPV is largely preventable with the vaccine.

This article discusses HPV without warts. It also explains how HPV spreads and how to prevent it.

Healthcare professionals sitting around a table having a conversationsShare on Pinterest
Fly View Productions/Getty Images

HPV does not always cause warts. However, a 2023 review suggests that when warts do develop, it is generally due to certain types of HPV.

There are over 200 types of HPV which can spread through sexual contact, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Several of these are more likely to cause warts than others.

Only around 1% of those with HPV show any clinical signs, including warts. While warts are treatable, the removal of them does not clear HPV from the body.

Types of warts due to HPV

The following table shows some types of warts that can develop due to HPV.

Type of wartUnderlying types of HPVCharacteristics of wart
Common wartsMost commonly, 2 and 4, also 1, 3, 27, 29, 57Rough, cauliflower-like bumps on the fingers, toes, and knees
Flat or plane warts3, 10, 28Flat, skin-colored bumps on the face, hands, and shins
Genital warts6, 11Skin-colored or darker bumps in the genital or anal area that sometimes bleed
Plantar wartsMost often 1, also 2, 3, 4, 27, 57Painful foot warts, some of which grow inward and others in clusters
Cystic warts60Slow-developing, oval-shaped, firm, and raised tumors, usually in areas that grow hair
Focal epithelial hyperplasia13, 32Soft white or flesh-colored bumps that develop in the mouth
Butcher’s warts7Hand warts that develop after working in cold, wet conditions

Read more about HPV.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states HPV is so common that nearly everyone will develop it at some point. They also note that more than 42 million people in the United States have a type of HPV. More than 13 million people in the United States develop the infection each year.

HPV usually does not cause any symptoms. However, those who do experience symptoms, develop warts of some kind. Depending on whether the type of HPV lives in the skin (cutaneous types) or the moist mucous membrane (mucosal types), the virus may cause different warts.

A person with HPV may not know that they have it. People with weakened immune systems due to HIV and other treatments or conditions that affect immune health may be more likely to develop warts.

HPV and cancer

Some types of high risk HPV can increase a person’s risk of several cancers, including:

TypeRelationship with HPV
Anal cancerMore than 90% of anal cancers occur due to HPV.
Cervical cancerHPV causes almost all cervical cancer.
Oropharyngeal cancerAround 70% of all cancers in the middle of the throat develop due to HPV.
Penile cancerHPV accounts for 63% of all penile cancers.
Vaginal cancerAround 3 in 4 people with vaginal cancer develop it due to HPV.
Vulvar cancerHPV leads to roughly 69% of vulvar cancers.

These cancers may cause painful lumps that bleed.

HPV, which stays in the body for many years, can change the cells, known as hyperplasia and dysplasia, in ways that may lead to cancer development. Every year, over 37,000 cancers develop as a result of HPV, according to the NCI.

HPV vaccinations can help prevent HPV and reduce a person’s risk of these cancers.

Learn more about HPV and cancer.

HPV passes from one person to another through intimate skin-to-skin contact.

It typically transmits during sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Sharing sex toys can also cause HPV to spread.

HPV can spread even without symptoms being present.

Learn more about how people contract HPV.

Anyone has a risk of acquiring HPV through sexual contact.

However, a 2022 analysis of 9,991 people with HPV found that the following groups of people may be at a higher risk of developing HPV:

  • those who had their first sexual experience at 19 years of age or younger
  • people who have had more than one sexual partner
  • users of contraception other than barrier methods, such as condoms

HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI). However, people can reduce the risk of HPV transmission through the use of condoms or other barrier methods and the HPV vaccine.

Condoms and other barrier methods increase the level of protection against HPV but may not cover all areas of skin around the genitals that have HPV. For this reason, they may not totally prevent HPV.

The HPV vaccine provides protection against the types of HPV that lead to most genital warts and cancer diagnoses. The standard recommendation from the CDC is that children receive the first dose at 11 to 12 years old. They can receive the second dose 6 to 12 months later. However, they can receive the first dose as young as 9 years old.

People can receive vaccines up to 26 years of age, and if they did not receive an HPV vaccination when they were younger, they can choose to receive a vaccination up to 45 years of age. However, experts do not generally recommend the vaccine for individuals over 26 years old.

Read more about the HPV vaccine.

How is HPV treated?

No treatment is available for HPV. It usually clears from the body within 2 years without causing any health issues. Healthcare professionals may need to address symptoms such as genital warts that cause problems or remove changing cells that may lead to cancer.

What are the symptoms of HPV in females?

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

Was this helpful?

Most often, HPV does not cause any symptoms. However, females and others with the virus may develop genital warts. In females, these warts may develop around or inside the vagina, around the anus, or on the cervix.

These symptoms occur more often in females than males.

Sexual health resources

Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and in-depth resources on sexual health.

Was this helpful?

HPV rarely causes warts and is most often symptomless. Certain types of HPV have links to specific warts, including common, genital, plantar, flat, Butcher’s, and cystic warts.

Warts are also the only symptom of HPV when they do develop.

HPV can still spread if no symptoms are present. Individuals can reduce their risk of acquiring HPV by using condoms or other barrier methods and receiving the HPV vaccine.