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How do high-risk and low-risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV) differ?

Some types of HPV can cause cervical cancer. These types of HPV are called high-risk. Having high-risk HPV is not the same as having cervical cancer. But high-risk HPV can lead to cancer. Most often, high-risk HPV causes no health problems and goes away on its own. High-risk HPV cases that don't go away are the biggest risk factor for cervical cancer. If you have high-risk HPV, your doctor can look for changes on your cervix during Pap tests. Changes can be treated to try to prevent cervical cancer. Be sure to have regular Pap tests so changes can be found early.

Low-risk HPV can cause genital warts. Warts can form weeks, months, or years after sexual contact with an infected person. In women genital warts can grow:

    * Inside and around the outside of the vagina
    * On the vulva ("lips" or opening to the vagina), cervix, or groin
    * In or around the anus

In men, genital warts can grow:

    * On the penis
    * On the scrotum, thigh, or groin
    * In or around the anus
    * Rarely, genital warts grow in the mouth or throat of a person who had oral sex with an infected person.

The size of genital warts varies. Some are so small you can't see them. They can be flat and flesh-colored or look bumpy like cauliflower. They often form in clusters or groups. They may itch, burn, or cause discomfort.

Low-risk HPV doesn't always cause warts. In fact, most people with low-risk HPV never know they are infected. This is because they don't get warts or any other symptoms.

This answer is based on source information from the National Women's Health Information Center.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.