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HPV (Human Papillomavirus): The Facts About the Infection and the Vaccine

Last updated: October 13, 2022

HPV: Sexually Transmitted Infection

What is HPV?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States, with approximately 14 million cases diagnosed annually. There are more than 150 strains of HPV, over 40 of which can cause cervical cancer (high-risk) and genital warts (low-risk). The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the types that can cause cancers.

What are the symptoms?

Most people with HPV do not develop symptoms or health problems from it. In 90% of cases, the body’s immune system clears HPV naturally within two years.

What are warts?

  • Genital warts – usually appear as a small bump or group of bumps in the genital area. They can be small or large, raised or flat or shaped like a cauliflower. Warts can appear within weeks or months after sexual contact with an infected partner. If left untreated, genital warts might go away, remain unchanged or increase in size or number. They will not turn into cancer. For more information on symptoms and treatment for genital warts, click here.
  • Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis (RRP) – Is a condition in which warts grow in the throat. These growths can sometimes block the airway, causing a hoarse voice or trouble breathing.

HPV and Cancer

What is the association between HPV infection and cancer?

Persistent HPV infections are recognized as the cause of essentially all cervical cancers, as well as some cancers of the vagina, vulva, penis, anus, rectum, and oropharynx, (cancers of the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils). Genital HPV infection also causes some cancers of the vulva, vagina and penis. In addition, oral HPV infection causes some cancers of the oropharynx.

HPV infection accounts for approximately 5% of all cancers worldwide each year.

Signs and symptoms of HPV-related problems:

  • Cervical Cancer
    • Usually does not have symptoms until it is quite advanced.
    • As the cancer progresses, the following signs and symptoms of more advanced cervical cancer may appear:
      • Vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods or after menopause
      • Watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and have a foul odor
      • Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse
  • Anal Cancer
    • Sometimes there are no signs or symptoms.
    • Anal bleeding, pain, itching or discharge
    • Swollen lymph nodes in the anal or groin area
    • Changes in bowel habits or the shape of your stool
  • Penile Cancer
    • First signs: Changes in color, skin thickening or a build-up of tissue on the penis.
    • Later signs: A growth or sore on the penis. It is usually painless, but in some cases the sore may be painful and bleed.
  • Cancer of the Oropharynx
    • Sore throat or ear pain that doesn’t go away
    • Constant coughing
    • Pain or trouble swallowing or breathing
    • Weight loss
    • Hoarseness or voice changes that last more than 2 weeks
    • Lump or mass in the neck

How common are HPV and related diseases?

  • HPV – Nearly all sexually active men and women get HPV at some point in their lives.
  • Genital Warts – About 1 in 100 sexually active adults in the U.S. has genital warts at any one time.
  • Cervical Cancer – Each year, about 12,000 women get cervical cancer in the U.S. Almost all cases are HPV-associated.
  • Other Cancers– Cases each year in the U.S.:
    • Vulvar Cancer – 3,554
    • Vaginal Cancer – 802
    • Penile Cancer – 1,168
    • Anal Cancer – 3,260 women, 1,750 men
    • Oropharyngeal Cancers – 3,100 women, 12,638 men
  • Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis (RRP) – Very rare. Less than 4.3 per 100,000 children get juvenile-onset RRP.

Prevention and Treatment

How can people prevent HPV?

  • Vaccines can protect males and females against some of the most common types of HPV that can lead to disease and cancer. These vaccines are given in two to three shots. It is important to get all doses to get the best protection. The vaccines are most effective when given at 11 or 12 years of age. For more information regarding each vaccine, click on the links below.
  • For those who choose to be sexually active, condoms may lower the risk of HPV. To be most effective, they should be used with every sex act, from start to finish. However, HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom – so condoms may not fully protect against HPV.
  • People can also lower their chances of getting HPV by being in a faithful relationship with one partner; limiting their number of sex partners; and choosing a partner who has had no or few prior sex partners.
  • Abstinence

Where can I get the HPV vaccine?

  • To learn about getting the HPV vaccine for adults, click here.
  • To learn about getting the HPV vaccine for a child, click here.

How can people prevent HPV-related diseases?

To learn how to prevent HPV, click here.

What are the treatment options for HPV?

For treatment options related to HPV, click here.

For more information, contact:

HIV/STI Prevention and Care
Anne Arundel County Department of Health
1 Harry S. Truman Parkway
Annapolis, Maryland 21401
Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.

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