We can imagine that you are looking for answers. How likely is it to get HPV? And is HPV vaccination still beneficial for me? Below you will find the answers to these and other questions.
HPV stands for human papillomavirus. 80-90% of people become infected with it at some point in their lives. In most cases, the infection resolves on its own within 2 years. If this does not happen, the virus can cause cancer in the anus, penis-, cervix, mouth and throat, vagina, and vulvar. An infection with HPV may also cause genital warts.1
HPV is highly contagious and spreads through sexual contact. For example, during vaginal, anal, or oral sex, but also through skin-to-skin contact. You can reduce the risk of infection by using a condom, but condoms don’t fully protect. You can get genital warts even by using the same towel as someone who is infected with HPV. In addition, you can reduce the risk of HPV-related diseases by getting vaccinated.1,2
In most cases, you won’t notice anything from an HPV infection. The vast majority of these infections clear up without symptoms. If this doesn’t happen, the infection can lead to cancer or warts. The first symptoms of these can be:
Usually, an HPV infection resolves on its own within 2 years and you do not develop a disease from it.1 However, the number HPV-related diseases in the Netherlands is increasing.
Treatment may be required only if you develop an HPV-related diseases. The specific treatment will be determined in consultation with your doctor. For example, genital warts can be treated with a cream, burned- or cut away.5 In case of HPV-related cancer, your doctor will discuss with you the most appropriate course of action.
Both men and women can do two things to protect themselves against the consequences of HPV: vaccination and condom use during sex, although condoms don’t fully protect. Women also have the possibility to participate in cervical cancer screening.1
HPV is highly contagious. About 80 to 90% of people become infected with this virus at some point in their life 1. However, certain people have a higher risk of developing HPV-related diseases.2,6,7 This includes:
Women are invited to participate in the cervical cancer screening in the year they turn 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55 or 60 years old.8 Do you reach one of these ages soon? Then you will receive an invitation via post and can do the smear test at your doctor’s office. In addition, it is always advisable to contact your doctor if you suffer from symptoms such as irregular and excessive blood loss between periods.9
In 2021, HPV was found in about 10% of the women who participated in the cervical cancer screening. This makes almost 53,000 women.10
The smear test is done at your general practitioner’s office. The doctor’s assistant will usually perform the procedure.8
First, the doctor’s assistant will ask you some questions. Then, they will collect some cells from the cervix using a small brush. Afterwards, the brush will be sent to a laboratory for analysis. The examination itself takes about 10 minutes and you will receive the results of your test within 4 weeks.11
If you find it inconvenient to go to the GP’s office for the smear test, you can opt for a self-sampling kit. This kit only indicates whether you are positive or negative for HPV. If you are HPV-positive, you will still need to do a smear test to check for abnormal cells.12
No, usually these are minor abnormalities that do not necessarily cause cancer. There are different types of abnormalities.12
If small abnormal cells are found in the smear, there is no need for alarm. Often your immune system will clear up these cells on its own, and they will disappear from the body. This can take around two years. Therefore, you are usually advised to have a follow-up smear test after 12 months. Your doctor will then check whether the abnormal cells have disappeared. If they did not, you will be referred for further examination.
If you get this result, you will be referred for further examination. You may feel alarmed if you receive this result, but the likelihood that you have cervical cancer is still low. This is often still a pre-cancerous stage of cervical cancer that can be treated relatively easily, so that you do not develop cervical cancer later.
Even at a later age, when you are sexually active or have previously had an HPV infection, vaccination can offer protection. If you previously tested positive for HPV and that infection has cleared, vaccination can protect you from a new infection with either the same or a different type of HPV.6,13
You may experience pain, itching, redness, or swelling at the injection site. Other symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, fatigue, headache, or fever may occur. Most of these side effects are mild and go away on their own.14
HPV vaccines are around 90% effective against the HPV types they target.16 Usually, these are the high-risk HPV types that can cause cancer. Some vaccines also protect against low-risk HPV types that can cause for example genital warts.6,17
Two HPV vaccines are available in the Netherlands. The two different vaccines have party different properties and protect both against the most common high-risk HPV types.17 For a complete overview, see HPV vaccine leaflets (RIVM).
Because HPV is common, a free vaccination against it is included in the National Immunisation Program, for girls and boys who turn 10 years old. In 2023, this opportunity is extended to everyone aged 18 to 26. Adults over the age of 26 can get vaccinated outside of the program on their own initiative.15 The cost of one HPV shot starts from 120 euros.* Depending on your health condition, you may require 2 or 3 doses.17
*Excluding delivery and administration fees (depending on the provider).
Boys and girls who turn 10 years old receive an invitation by mail for a free vaccination. The vaccine included in the National Immunisation Program consists of two shots given six months apart. Depending on your region, the vaccinations are given by the GGD or a Centre for Youth and Family.15
The HPV-vaccines do not contain substances that affect your reproductive organs, and therefore fertility.18
You can visit a vaccination center, private clinic, or the GGD where they usually have the vaccines in stock. Alternatively, you can approach your GP for vaccination. Keep in mind they might not have the vaccine readily available. You may first need to pick up the vaccine at a pharmacy and return to your GP for administration.
1 RIVM, HPV, accessed aug 2023
2 Gezondheidsraad, Vaccinatie tegen HPV, accessed aug 2023
3 RIVM, Feiten en cijfers, accessed aug 2023
4 RIVM, Genitale wratten, accessed feb 2023
5 LCI, Humaan Papillomavirusinfectie – anogenitale wratten, accessed aug 2023
6 LCI, Richtlijn HPV Vaccinitie, accessed aug 2023
7 . Kanker.nl, HPV en baarmoederhalskanker, accessed aug 2023
8 RIVM, Bevolkingsonderzoek baarmoederhalskanker, accessed aug 2023
9 Thuisarts, Ik heb baarmoederhalskanker, accessed aug 2023
10 Bevolkingsonderzoek Nederland, Baarmoederhalskanker, accessed aug 2023
11 RIVM, Het uitstrijkje, accessed aug 2023
12 RIVM, Uitslag bevolkingsonderzoek, accessed aug 2023
13 RIVM, HPV-vaccinatie buiten het Rijksvaccinatieprogramma, accessed op aug 2023
14 RIVM, Bijwerkingen HPV-vaccinatie, accessed aug 2023
15 RIVM, HPV-vaccinatie , accessed aug 2023
16 RIVM, Bijsluiters HPV-vaccins, accessed aug 2023
17 Farmacotherapeutisch Kompas, HPV, accessed aug 2023
18 RIVM, Vaccinatie tegen HPV voor meisjes, accessed aug 2023