Frequently asked Questions

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.

Human papilloma virus (HPV)

What is HPV?

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

How is HPV transmitted?

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

What are the symptoms of HPV?

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:

  • In case of cancer: a burning sensation, bleeding, pain, and abnormalities around the anus, penis, labia, and in the mouth and throat.1
  • In case of genital warts: itching and irritation in this area.1
  • In case of warts on the vocal cords or airways: breathing problems. 2

What is the likelihood of getting sick from HPV?

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.

  • More than 1100 women and almost 400 men develop cancer each year in
    the Netherlands due to the virus. Approximately 400 of them die as a
  • In 2021, more than 18,500 women and almost 29,000 men in the
    Netherlands received the diagnosis of genital warts.4

How do I get rid of HPV?

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.

How can I reduce the risk of HPV?

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

Am I at risk?

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:

  • People with a weakened immune system. The use of certain medication
    can prevent the body from clearing the virus effectively.
  • People who smoke. Smoking reduces the effectiveness of the immune
  • People with frequent and varied sexual contacts. This increases the risk ofinfection.
  • Men who have sex with men (MSM). They benefit less from herd
    immunity brought by vaccination in women and are more likely to become infected.
  • Women with a precancerous stage of cervical cancer (CIN2-3).

Testing or Screening for HPV

When should i do a smear test?

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

As a woman, what are the chances that I will test positive for HPV?

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

Who will do my smear test?

The smear test is done at your general practitioner’s office. The doctor’s assistant will usually perform the procedure.8

How does the smear test work?

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

Smear test or self-test?

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

My smear test was HPV-positive and showed abnormal cells. Do I have cervical cancer now?

No, usually these are minor abnormalities that do not necessarily cause cancer. There are different types of abnormalities.12

Minor abnormalities
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.

Vaccination against HPV

Is vaccination against HPV still beneficial for me?

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

What are the side effects of HPV vaccination?

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

What is the effectiveness of HPV vaccines?

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

Which HPV vaccines are available?

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).

What does HPV vaccination cost?

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).

How can I protect my child?

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

Do HPV-vaccines impact fertility?

The HPV-vaccines do not contain substances that affect your reproductive organs, and therefore fertility.18

Where can I get vaccinated?

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.

Want to discuss HPV?

Certainly. We can put you in contact with experts in the field.


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 ., 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