Human papilloma viruses (HPVs) make up a group of over 200 related viruses1, and is the most common sexually transmitted infection2. Most HPV infections (9 out of 10) go away by themselves within two years. However, some HPV infections will last longer, and can cause certain cancers and other diseases3.
People get HPV from another person during intimate, skin-to-skin contact - typically sexual contact4.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that about 14 million people get a new HPV infection every year in the US5. Nearly all men and women who have ever had sex get at least one type of genital HPV at some time in their lives. This is true even for people who only have sex with one person in their lifetime6 7.
Specific strains of HPV can lead to cancers of the cervix, vagina, and vulva in women; cancers of the penis in men; and cancers of the anus and back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (oropharynx), in both women and men12. Every year in the United States, HPV causes 33,700 cancers in men and women13. Fortunately, there are vaccines that can prevent infection from the types of HPV that most commonly cause cancer (16, 18, 31 and 35)14. [Graph Source: CDC]
The HPV-Related Cancers are:
According to the American Cancer Society15, anal cancer is fairly rare – much less common than cancer of the colon or rectum. ACS estimates for anal cancer in the United States for 2018 are:
The risk of being diagnosed with anal cancer during one’s lifetime is about 1 in 500. The risk is slightly higher in women than in men. The risk is also higher in people with certain risk factors for anal cancer.
Treatment for anal cancer is often very effective, and many patients with this cancer can be cured. But anal cancer can be a serious condition. Learn more about the latest research and treatment.
The American Cancer Society's estimates for cervical cancer in the United States for 2018 are16:
Cervical pre-cancers are diagnosed far more often than invasive cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of cancer death for American women. But over the last 40 years, the cervical cancer death rate has gone down by more than 50%. The main reason for this change was the increased use of the Pap test. This screening procedure can find changes in the cervix before cancer develops. It can also find cervical cancer early − in its most curable stage.
Cervical cancer tends to occur in midlife. Most cases are found in women younger than 50. It rarely develops in women younger than 20. Many older women do not realize that the risk of developing cervical cancer is still present as they age.
More than 15% of cases of cervical cancer are found in women over 65. However these cancers rarely occur in women who have been getting regular tests to screen for cervical cancer before they were 65. See the section, "Can cervical cancer be prevented?" and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Early Detection for more information about tests used to screen for cervical cancer.
In the United States, Hispanic women are most likely to get cervical cancer, followed by African-Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, and whites. American Indians and Alaskan natives have the lowest risk of cervical cancer in this country.
HPV Risk Factors on the Rise
Doctors believe that a woman must be infected with HPV in order to develop cervical cancer. Although this can mean infection with any of the high-risk types, about two-thirds of all cervical cancers are caused by HPV 16 and 18.
Infection with HPV is common, and in most people the body can clear the infection by itself. Sometimes, however, the infection does not go away and becomes chronic. Chronic infection, especially when it is caused by certain high-risk HPV types, can eventually cause certain cancers, such as cervical cancer.
Although there is currently no cure for HPV infection, there are ways to treat the warts and abnormal cell growth that HPV causes.
The American Cancer Society’s most recent estimates for oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers in the United States are for 201817:
In recent years, the overall rate of new cases of this disease has been stable in men and dropping slightly in women. However, there has been a recent rise in cases of oropharyngeal cancer linked to infection with human papilloma virus (HPV) in white men and women.
The death rate for these cancers has been decreasing over the last 30 years.
Oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers occur most often in the following sites:
The average age of most people diagnosed with these cancers is 62, but they can occur in young people. They are rare in children, but a little more than one-quarter occur in patients younger than 55.
The rates of these cancers vary among countries. For example, they are much more common in Hungary and France than in the United States and much less common in Mexico and Japan.
When patients newly diagnosed with oral and oropharyngeal cancers are carefully examined, a small portion will have another cancer in a nearby area such as the larynx (voice box), the esophagus (the tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach), or the lung. Some who are cured of oral or oropharyngeal cancer will develop another cancer later in the lung, mouth, throat, or other nearby areas. For this reason, people with oral and oropharyngeal cancer will need to have follow-up exams for the rest of their lives. They also need to avoid using tobacco and alcohol, which increase the risk for these second cancers.
HPV Risk Factors on the Rise
The number of oropharyngeal cancers linked to HPV has risen dramatically over the past few decades. HPV DNA (a sign of HPV infection) is now found in about 2 out of 3 oropharyngeal cancers and in a much smaller fraction of oral cavity cancers. The reason for the rising rate of HPV-linked cancers is unclear, although some think that it could be because of changes in sexual practices in recent decades, in particular an increase in oral sex.
People with oral and oropharyngeal cancer linked with HPV infection tend to be younger and are less likely to be smokers and drinkers.
Oropharyngeal cancers that contain HPV DNA tend to have a better outlook than those without HPV. Learn more about the latest research and treatment.
The American Cancer Society estimates for penile cancer in the United States for 2018 are18:
For statistics related to survival, see Survival Rates for Penile Cancer.
Penile cancer is rare in North America and Europe. It is diagnosed in less than 1 man in 100,000 each year and accounts for less than 1% of cancers in men in the United States. Penile cancer is, however, much more common in some parts of Asia, Africa, and South America. Learn more about the latest research and treatment.
According to the American Cancer Society19, vulvar cancer accounts for about 6% of cancers of the female reproductive organs and 0.7% of all cancers in women. In the United States, women have a 1 in 333 chance of developing vulvar cancer at some point during their life. The American Cancer Society's estimates for vulvar cancer in the United States for 2018 are: about 6,190 cancers of the vulva will be diagnosed, and about 1,200 women will die of this cancer. Learn more about the latest research and treatment.
Vaginal cancer is rare. Only about 1 of every 1,100 women will develop vaginal cancer in her lifetime. The American Cancer Society’s estimates for vaginal cancer in the United States for 2018 are20:
While the introduction of the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls has begun to reduce the number of cervical cancer cases in the developed world, cervical cancer is still a major killer of women in developing countries. HPV-associated oropharyngeal (base of the tongue, tonsils, soft palate, and walls of the pharynx) cancer in men is growing in epidemic proportions.
There are limited effective treatment options for these diseases in their metastatic state. Top scientists believe that promising research, including that seeded by IF, can lead to more effective treatments, particularly immunotherapy approaches.Learn More
Genital human papilloma virus (HPV) infection usually has no symptoms, unless it’s an HPV type that causes genital warts. Genital warts may appear within weeks or months after contact with a partner who has HPV21. The warts may also show up years after exposure, but this is rare22. The warts usually appear as a small bump or groups of bumps in the genital area. They can be small or large, raised or flat, or shaped like a cauliflower. A healthcare provider can usually diagnose warts by looking at the genital area22. If they’re not treated, genital warts might go away, stay and not change, or increase in size or number. But warts rarely turn into cancer23.
Most people will never know they have HPV because they have no symptoms24. According to the American Cancer Society, in most people, their immune system attacks the virus and clears the HPV infection within 2 years. This is true of both high-risk and low-risk HPV types. But sometimes HPV infections are not cleared. This can lead to cell changes that over years may develop into cancer25.
It is important to note that, while research is ongoing, there is currently no FDA-approved HPV diagnostic test for men at this time, nor is there an FDA-approved HPV test to find the virus anywhere besides the cervix, including the mouth or throat26. To learn more about oral cancer screenings, talk to your dentist or visit the National Cancer Institute's resource page to learn how you can be screened for precancerous and cancerous lesions.
According to the American Cancer Society, the FDA has only approved tests to find HPV in a woman’s cervix, where positive results can be managed with extra testing and prompt treatment if the infection causes abnormal cell growth27.
The USPSTF recommends screening for cervical cancer every 3 years with cervical cytology alone in women aged 21 to 29 years. For women aged 30 to 65 years, the USPSTF recommends screening every 3 years with cervical cytology alone, every 5 years with high-risk human papillomavirus (hrHPV) testing alone, or every 5 years with hrHPV testing in combination with cytology (cotesting)28.
The USPSTF recommends screening for cervical cancer every 3 years with cervical cytology alone in women aged 21 to 29 years. For women aged 30 to 65 years, the USPSTF recommends screening every 3 years with cervical cytology alone, every 5 years with high-risk human papillomavirus (hrHPV) testing alone, or every 5 years with hrHPV testing in combination with cytology (cotesting)29.
For low-income, uninsured, and underserved women, the CDC's National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) has provided access to timely breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services for over 20 years. Find out if you qualify.
The HPV vaccine is safe and effective. It can protect males and females against diseases (including cancers) caused by HPV when given in the recommended age groups. As of 2018, the HPV vaccine's approval has been extended from ages 9-26 to ages 9-45. For adults aged 27-45, insurance coverage information is forthcoming, but the vaccine is expected to be covered.
According to the CDC, all kids who are 11 or 12 years old should get two shots of HPV vaccine six to twelve months apart. Adolescents who receive their two shots less than five months apart will require a third dose of HPV vaccine. If your teen hasn’t gotten the vaccine yet, talk to their doctor or nurse about getting it for them as soon as possible. If your child is older than 14 years, three shots will need to be given over 6 months. Adults aged 27-45 will have more information imminently on insurance coverage of this vaccine.30
To learn about more specific recommendations for this vaccination, visit the CDC's page on HPV Vaccines.
You can also seek out more information and be vaccinated in the medical clinics of pharmacies like Walgreens or CVS, or at community health clinics, family planning health centers and private health care providers.
You can also contact your state health department to learn more about where to get HPV vaccine in your community.
The Vaccines for Children (VFC) program helps families of eligible children who might not otherwise have access to vaccines. The program provides vaccines at no cost to children ages 18 years and younger who are uninsured, Medicaid-eligible, or American Indian/Alaska Native. To learn more, see VFC program.