HPV or human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the US. It is so common that most sexually active people will catch the virus at some point in their lives.
HPV is spread from sexual skin-to-skin contact. It can be spread onto the vulva, vagina, cervix, penis or anus.
Many people have no symptoms and feel completely fine-often times not even knowing they have been infected. HPV can infect the genital area, cervix, rectum, anus, penis and scrotum. HPV is harmless and usually goes away by itself but some types of HPV can cause cancer or genital warts.
There are over 200 types of HPV. There are at least twelve types of HPV that cause cancer.
For seventeen years, from 1999 to 2015, cervical cancer was the most HPV related cancer.
Since 2015, mouth and throat cancer replaced the cervical cancer as the most common site of cancer associated with HPV.
Oropharyngeal cancer, or throat cancer, is more common in men than women.
Cervical cancer rates have dropped by 1.6% since 1999 and throat cancers have increased 2.8% each year for men and 0.6% for woman each year. Since 1999, rates increased by 2.8% per year with men and 0.6% per year among women.
Why have rates of cervical cancer decreased?
Cancer screenings have caused cervical cancer rates to drop. Fortunately, since the 1950’s there has been a consistent effort to encourage women to get annual PAP screenings and gynecological checkups where cervical cancer can be diagnosed early.
American Indians, Hispanics, Alaska natives, and African Americans had the largest decrease in cervical cancer rates.
HPV vaccinations were added as part of the routine immunization program for girls in 2006 and then for boys in 2011.
These vaccinations specifically target the types of HPV that cause the majority of cervical cancers.
Why an increase in throat cancer?
A rise in unprotected oral sex could be a cause in the increase in throat cancers caused by HPV.
White men specifically have a higher rate of lifetime oral sex partners and report engaging in oral sex for the first time at a younger age than any other ethnic group.
The CDC released a recent study that says that HPV vaccination could prevent 90% of the cases of cancer in the US. This equates to 31,200 cancer cases annually.
How to protect yourself
- Get your yearly gynecological checkup.
- Get regular PAP/ HPV tests
- Using condoms or dental dams can reduce the risk of contracting HPV, although there is still a risk.
- You can also get the HPV vaccine and encourage your partner(s) to do the same.
Ideally, health professionals hope to have girls and boys aged 13 to 15 years treated with the HPV vaccine at a 80% completion rate.
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