The human papillomavirus

You might have heard of this virus before. Both men and women deal with HPV at some point in their lives. But what is HPV exactly, and how common is it? Read the answers below to these and other questions.

What is HPV?

HPV stands for human papillomavirus. 80-90% of people become infected with it at some point in their life. Normally, the infection resolves on its own within two years, but not always. 1

What are the consequences?

When the body fails to clear the HPV infection, this can lead to developing cancer in the following areas:

  • Anus
  • Cervix
  • Mouth and pharynx
  • Penis
  • Vagina
  • Vulva

These cancers typically occur later in life, but cervical cancer can affect women as early as 30-35 years old. Certain types of HPV can also cause genital warts or warts on the vocal cords and airways, known as laryngeal and tracheal papillomas. 1.2


80-90% of people will deal with an HPV infection at some point in their life.1

hpv typen

>170 HPV types

Over 170 types of HPV are known. Some of them can cause cancer or genital warts.2

How is HPV Transmitted?

HPV usually spreads through sexual contact, including
vaginal, anal, or oral sex, but also through skin-to-skin
contact during sex. The virus is highly contagious, and
even sharing a towel with an infected person can lead to
contracting genital warts. 1-3

Am I at risk?

Everyone can get infected with the virus, but certain groups have a higher risk of developing HPV-related diseases.2,4,5 This includes, for example:

  • People with HIV
  • People who smoke
  • People with a weakened immune system
  • People with frequent and varied sexual contacts
  • Men who have sex with men (MSM)
  • Women with cervical precancerous lesions (CIN2-3)
hpv virus


60% chance that you will be infected with the HPV virus during sex with an infected person.2


Condoms do not fully protect against HPV infection.1

What are the symptoms?

In most cases, you don’t notice an infection with HPV and your body clears up the virus on its own. If this does not happen, an HPV infection can lead to developing
cancer or warts. The initial symptoms may include 1,2:

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

1500 people with cancer per year

Around 1100 women and near 400 men develop HPV- related cancer each year in the Netherlands. Approximately 400 of them die.6

hpv vrouwen

47,500 diagnoses of genital warts

In 2021, over 18,500 women and nearly 29,000 men in the Netherlands were diagnosed with genital warts.3

How can I protect myself?

There are three ways to protect yourself against the consequences of HPV1:

  • Vaccination.
  • Participating in cervical cancer screening (only for women).
  • Using a condom during sex.*
    *Condoms do not protect you fully against an HPV-infection.
hpv vaccinatie

Curious about the different HPV-vaccines?

Around 90% effective

HPV-vaccines are around 90% effective against infections with the HPV-types they target.1

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What can you do against HPV?

Find out how you can protect yourself and others


1. RIVM, HPV , accessed aug 2023
2. Gezondheidsraad, HPV vaccinatie tegen HPV , accessed jun 2019
3. RIVM, Genitale wratten , accessed aug 2023
4. LCI, Richtlijn HPV vaccinatie , accessed aug 2023
5., HPV en baarmoederhalskanker, accessed aug 2023
6. RIVM, HPV: feiten en cijfers, accessed aug 2023

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Frequently asked Questions

Visit the FAQ page and find answers to your HPV-related questions