The Center for Disease Control estimates 79 million American men and women are currently infected with HPV. The virus is transmitted by intimate skin to skin contact and, in most cases, goes away on its own without causing health problems. HPV can cause cancer of the mouth, throat, cervix and other areas and can occur in a younger population aged 25-50.
Cancers Caused by HPV
There are more than 150 types Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Of these, “High-risk HPV” is more likely to cause cancer. For most people, the immune system is able to get rid of this type of infection. But some people develop a lasting infection. Over many years, the infection transforms normal cells into precancerous lesions or cancer. The following cancers are linked with HPV:
- Cervical cancer HPV infection causes nearly all cervical cancers. Of the cervical cancers related to HPV, about 70% are caused by 2 types: HPV-16 or HPV-18. Smoking may increase the risk of cervical cancer for women who have HPV. Although almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV, it is important to remember that most genital HPV infections will not cause cancer.
- Oral cancer HPV can cause cancer of the mouth and tongue. It can also cause cancer of the oropharynx. This is the middle part of the throat, from the tonsils to the tip of the voice box. These HPV-related cancers are increasing in men and women. Changes in sexual behavior, including an increase in oral sex, may be contributing to the increase.
- Other cancers HPV is associated with less common cancers, including anal cancer, vulvar and vaginal cancers in women, and penile cancer in men.
Vaccinating against cancers caused by HPV
Three HPV vaccines have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The most recent was Gardasil 9, which is approved for use in males and females ages 9 to 45 to protect against cervical cancer and other side effects of HPV like genital warts.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends routine HPV vaccination for girls and boys ages 11 and 12, although it can be given as early as age 9.
- It's ideal for girls and boys to receive the vaccine before they have sexual contact and are exposed to HPV. Research has shown that receiving the vaccine at a young age isn't linked to an earlier start of sexual activity.
- Once someone is infected with HPV, the vaccine might not be as effective or might not work at all. Also, response to the vaccine is better at younger ages than older ones. But, if given before someone is infected, the vaccine can prevent most cases of cervical cancer.
- The CDC now recommends that all 11- and 12-year-olds receive two doses of HPV vaccine at least six months apart, instead of the previously recommended three-dose schedule. Younger adolescents ages 9 and 10 and teens ages 13 and 14 also are able to receive vaccination on the updated two-dose schedule. Research has shown that the two-dose schedule is effective for children under 15.
- Teens and young adults who begin the vaccine series later, at ages 15 through 26, should continue to receive three doses of the vaccine. The CDC now recommends catch-up HPV vaccinations for all people through age 26 who aren't adequately vaccinated.
Risk factors for HPV
- Number of sexual partners The more sexual partners you have, the more likely you are to contract a genital HPV infection. Having sex with a partner who has had multiple sex partners also increases your risk.
- Age Common warts occur mostly in children. Genital warts occur most often in adolescents and young adults.
- Weakened immune systems People who have weakened immune systems are at greater risk of HPV infections. Immune systems can be weakened by HIV/AIDS or by immune system-suppressing drugs used after organ transplants.
- Damaged skin Areas of skin that have been punctured or opened are more prone to develop common warts.
- Personal contact Touching someone's warts or not wearing protection before contacting surfaces that have been exposed to HPV — such as public showers or swimming pools — might increase your risk of HPV infection.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the US. With the advent of the ability to test for HPV in women, cervical cancer screening now includes three approaches: HPV testing, which looks for the presence of high-risk HPV types in cervical cells; Pap testing; and HPV/Pap cotesting, which checks the same cell sample for both high-risk HPV types and cervical cell changes.
There is no approved screening for men at this time. In the absence of a test that can screen for HPV, prevention mechanisms are still powerful. The majority of people contract HPV when they become sexually active, according to the CDC. Experts stress that the vaccine is something everyone should ask their doctor about.
HPV infections most commonly have no symptoms or health problems. But this viral infection can commonly cause skin or mucous membrane growths (warts). There are more than 150 varieties of human papillomavirus (HPV). Some types of HPV infection cause warts, and some can cause different types of cancer.
Most HPV infections don't lead to cancer. Do not cause health problems and disappear on their own. But some types of genital HPV can cause cancer of the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina (cervix). Other types of cancers, including cancers of the anus, penis, vagina, vulva and back of the throat (oropharyngeal), have been linked to HPV infection.