How Do I Know if I Have HPV?

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on May 07, 2024
9 min read

If you have human papillomavirus (HPV), you might never know it. It’s so common that the CDC estimates that almost 80 million people in the U.S. have it.

You get an HPV infection when you’re exposed to HPV. There are more than 200 types (or strains) of HPV. Some HPV types can cause genital warts. Others are linked to cancer of the cervix and other organs. And some strains cause common warts that typically appear on other areas of the body such as your hands and feet.





If you’ve been sexually active, there’s a strong chance you’ve already been exposed to HPV. Depending on the type of HPV you get, you may or may not have symptoms. Many people don’t. The immune system usually gets rid of the virus within 1-2 years, before you get any signs of an infection.

If you have genital warts or warts on other parts of your body, that’s a sign of HPV.

HPV and genital warts

These growths don’t all look the same. They can be raised, flat, pink, or flesh-colored. They might even be shaped like cauliflower. You could have one or several small or large warts.

Genital warts caused by HPV may grow in the following areas:

Genital warts can show up weeks, months, or even years after you have sex (vaginal, anal, or oral) with someone who carries the HPV virus. Your sexual partner may not know they have HPV.

HPV and warts on hands, feet, and body

You can get other kinds of skin warts from HPV. They can show up pretty much anywhere on your body. They’re usually caused by a different type of HPV than the strains that cause genital warts.

Besides genital warts, HPV can cause:

  • Common warts. Rough warts on your hands, knees, or other areas.
  • Plantar warts. Flat warts on the soles of your feet or other body parts.
  • Flat warts. Small, smooth warts that show up in clusters anywhere on your body.
  • Mosaic warts. Tiny warts on the balls of your feet, under your toes, or top of your foot.
  • Filiform warts. Thread-like warts that grow on or around your face.

Most men who carry the virus are asymptomatic. That means if you have a penis and testicles, you may have HPV and never know it. You can lower the chances of getting HPV or passing it to your sexual partners if you practice safer sex, such as using a condom when you have sex.

The most common symptoms of HPV in men or people assigned male at birth include warts, odd growths, bumps, or sores in the following areas:

  • Penis
  • Scrotum
  • Anus
  • Mouth
  • Throat

There are no approved tests to screen for HPV in men. Talk to your doctor about whether the HPV vaccine is right for you or if you need other tests to check for anal cancer caused by HPV.

If you’re healthy, doctors don’t routinely test for HPV.

When to get tested for HPV

HPV is a regular part of cervical cancer screening.

In general, people who have a cervix and are age 30-65:

  • Should get an HPV test every 5 years
  • Get a combined HPV and Pap test every 5 years
  • Get a Pap test every 3 years

People with a cervix who are age 21-29 should get a Pap test every 3 years. Your doctor will usually order an HPV test if your results show certain changes in the cells of your cervix.

If you’re older than 65 and have a cervix, ask your doctor if you should get an HPV test. Follow the cervical cancer screening guidelines for your age group even if you’ve been vaccinated for HPV. The shot doesn’t protect you against all types of HPV.

How women are tested for HPV

Your doctor may check for HPV at the same time as your Pap test, called co-testing, or order an HPV test by itself. But the procedure is the same for both.

Before an HPV test, your doctor will have you:

  • Remove all your clothes, at least from the waist down.
  • Lie on your back with your knees bent. 
  • Place your heels in supports called stirrups.

During the test, your doctor will:

  • Put a medical device called a speculum into your vagina.
  • Insert a long, soft brush inside your vagina.
  • Gently scrape your cervix to get a sample of your cells.

To prepare for an HPV test, you should:

  • Avoid penetrative sex (intercourse) and douching. 
  • Not put medicine or spermicide in your vagina for at least 2 days before the test.

You can get an HPV test on your period. But your doctor may suggest you schedule the test when you’re not bleeding, if possible, so they can get a good sample of your cervical cells.

How men are tested for HPV

There’s no approved test for HPV in people who have a penis and testicles. But if you have HIV or receive anal sex from other men, your doctor may suggest you get an anal Pap test to check for signs of HPV-related anal cancer.

Even though there’s no test for HPV in men, you should tell your doctor if you have symptoms such as genital warts or sores in your mouth or throat. They’ll let you know what kind of tests you need next and how to lessen the chances you’ll spread an infection to your sexual partners.

Is HPV testing part of a normal checkup?

No. Whether you’re male or female, HPV testing isn’t a regular part of an annual physical.

But if you have a cervix, your doctor will order an HPV test as part of your regular cervical cancer screening or if you have an abnormal Pap test. Ask your doctor how often you should check for signs of cervical cancer.

Warts are divided into groups based on what they look like, where they are on your body, and what type of HPV caused the infection. They include:

Genital warts

These are a type of sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by HPV. You may get one or more small or large warts. They usually don’t hurt, but they may itch or feel sore. Your doctor can give you medication or perform surgery to get rid of genital warts. But there’s no treatment for HPV, and the warts may come back later on.

Around 90% of genital warts are caused by HPV types 6 and 11. These low-risk strains aren’t associated with cancer, but you may get warts on the cervix, vagina, vulva, scrotum, penis, or anus. Sometimes, the strains that cause genital warts also cause warts in the mouth or throat.

Verruca vulgaris (common warts)

These warts often show up on your hands. But they may appear on your fingers, knees, or elbows, and even under your fingernails (periungual warts). They vary in size but are typically round and small. Sometimes they grow together.

They usually feel rough and may have tiny dark spots inside. These black or reddish dots may look like seeds, but they’re actually tiny dead blood vessels (smothered capillaries). Leave them alone. Digging them out will only hurt your skin.

Common warts are most often caused by HPV strains 2 and 4, along with types 1, 3, 7, 27, 29, and 57.

Plantar warts

These are the kind that occur on the bottom of your feet. They’re usually flat and grow inward. Like common warts, they may have little black dots in them. Plantar warts can get big and hurt when you stand or walk. They’re usually caused by HPV types 1, 2, 4, 27, and 57.

Mosaic warts

These pinhead-sized warts are white and typically show up on the balls of your feet or under your toes. Unlike plantar warts, they usually don’t cause pain when you walk on them. Mosaic warts are typically caused by HPV type 2.

Flat warts (plane warts)

These tend to be smoother than other warts. You may get a bunch at once, sometimes 20-100 at a time. They can show up anywhere on your body, including your face, top of your hands or feet, arms and legs, or where you have scratches.

Flat warts are commonly caused by HPV strains 3, 10, and 28, and sometimes by types 26, 27, 29, and 41.

Filiform warts

These are long, thin strands that grow out of places such as your eyelids, face, neck, or lips. They’re usually caused by HPV types 1, 2, 4, 27 and 29.

Butcher’s warts

These warts are found most often on the hands of people who work in cold wet places or touch a lot of raw meat or fish (or use knives or other tools used to cut or handle meat and fish products). They’re caused by HPV type 7. 

Heck’s disease (focal epithelial hyperplasia)

Rarely, you can get warts in the tissue that lines your gums, tongue, or lips. These growths are usually soft and look white or the same color as the rest of the inside of your mouth.

HPV types 13 and 32 usually cause warts associated with Heck’s disease. You’re more likely to get these kinds of warts if you’re a child or young adult with a weakened immune system.

HPV is a common virus. You may get an HPV infection through sex or other kinds of skin-to-skin contact. Some types of HPV can cause genital warts or other skin warts. Other strains can cause cancer in areas such as the cervix, head, or neck.

Whether you’re male or female, tell your doctor if you have symptoms such as genital warts or growths in your mouth or throat, and you’re not sure what’s causing them. If you have a cervix, ask your medical provider how often you should get tested for HPV.

Ask if the HPV vaccine is right for you or your child.

What is the diagnostic test for HPV?

The only FDA-approved test for HPV uses cells from the cervix. Your doctor usually gets a sample for the HPV test the same way as a Pap test, meaning they take cells from your cervix to look for abnormal changes or signs of cancer.

How is the human papillomavirus diagnosed?

If you have a cervix, your doctor will take a sample of your cells and send them to a lab to check for the human papillomavirus (HPV). You can buy tests that use cells from your mouth to check for an HPV infection, but those aren’t FDA-approved.

What tests for papillomavirus? 

Your doctor will take a sample of cells from your cervix to check for HPV. If you have HIV and have anal sex with men, your doctor may take cells from your anus to check for HPV.

What is the blood test for HPV?

The NavDX blood test can tell you if HPV is the cause of your head and neck cancer. But it can’t detect HPV infections before the onset of cancer. There’s ongoing research to see how doctors can use this test to monitor HPV-related cancers or make changes to treatment.