Feature Article: 5 Things You May Not Know about HPV

Published on in Parents PACK

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. When we think about cervical health, we also think about human papillomavirus (HPV). 

But, HPV does not only cause cervical cancer. HPV infections can also lead to cancers of the throat and genital regions other than the cervix, including the anus, penis, vagina, and vulva. Some types of HPV cause painful and unsightly genital warts.

Check out these five facts about HPV.

8 of 10 sexually active people get HPV at some point during their lifetime.

Infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) is so common that nearly everyone who is sexually active will be infected with at least one type of HPV at some point. Most people with HPV do not experience any symptoms, so they never know they were infected.

Because people often do not know they are infected, it was difficult to reduce the spread of the virus in the past. However, data have shown that since the HPV vaccine became available, even people who have not been vaccinated are less likely to get infected, suggesting that use of the vaccine has decreased transmission (i.e., herd immunity). Despite this success, the vaccine is still the best way to make sure you or a loved one is protected, since in most cases we do not know who is infected.

Australia is likely to be the first country to eliminate cervical cancer.

Australia has achieved very high HPV vaccination rates for boys and girls. These high vaccination rates, coupled with aggressive cervical screening campaigns, have put Australia on track to become the first country in the world to eliminate cervical cancer.

HPV causes about 7 of 10 throat cancers.

It’s estimated that about 7 of every 10 oropharyngeal (i.e., throat) cancers in the United States are caused by human papillomavirus. HPV-related throat cancer affects men about three times more often than women. The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that cause oropharyngeal cancer. 

HPV vaccine provides better immunity than natural infection.

HPV vaccine is one of several vaccines that induce a stronger immune response than natural infection. This is due, in part, to the purity and quantity of the viral proteins contained in the HPV vaccine.

Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), tetanus and pneumococcus vaccines also provide greater protection than acquired through natural infection. Read more about natural infection versus vaccination.

The HPV vaccine is safe.

The HPV vaccine is made using a single protein from the surface of the virus, so it can’t reproduce and cause illness or cancer. More than 120 million doses of HPV vaccine have been given in the United States alone. Likewise, vaccine safety studies have shown that the HPV vaccine is both safe and effective.

The Vaccine Education Center has compiled a list of peer-reviewed studies that have examined the safety of HPV vaccine. Visit vaccine.chop.edu/safety-references to find the references and see study summaries.

Additional resources

Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Vaccine Education Center staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.

You should not consider the information in this site to be specific, professional medical advice for your personal health or for your family's personal health. You should not use it to replace any relationship with a physician or other qualified healthcare professional. For medical concerns, including decisions about vaccinations, medications and other treatments, you should always consult your physician or, in serious cases, seek immediate assistance from emergency personnel.