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Understanding HPV and the Link to Cancer

HPV is a group of more than 200 related viruses, some of which are spread through vaginal, anal, oral sex and other intimate forms of skin-to-skin contact.
HPV types fall into two groups, low risk and high risk. Low-risk HPVs mostly cause no disease. However, a few low-risk HPV types can cause warts on or around the genitals, anus, mouth, or throat. These are the infections that your immune system usually controls so they don’t cause cancer. 
High-risk HPV infections that persist can cause cancer. Sometimes HPV infections are not successfully controlled by your immune system. When a high-risk HPV infection persists for many years, it can lead to cell changes that, if untreated, may get worse over time and become cancer.
 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year, about 44,000 new cases of cancer are found in parts of the body where HPV is often found. HPV causes about 34,800 of these cancers. Cancer often takes years, even decades, to develop after a person gets HPV. The CDC recommends HPV vaccination to protect against these cancers.

The HPV vaccine series is recommended for girls and boys at the age of 11 or 12; the series can be started at age nine. For young people who didn’t get vaccinated on time, HPV vaccination is recommended up to age 26.

Yes, the vaccine can be given to adults between the ages of 27 and 45 who didn’t receive all vaccine doses earlier. Adults in this age group benefit less from the vaccine because they are more likely to have been exposed to HPV already. But if you are concerned that you are at risk for new HPV infections, you should talk with your health care provider about whether the vaccine may be right for you.

  • Cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers in women
  • Penile cancer in men
  • Anal cancer in both men and women
  • Oropharynx, or back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils cancer in both men and women
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