Article contributed by Angela Young, American Cancer Society Patient Navigator
HPV stands for human papillomavirus. There are more than 150 types of HPV, and HPV infection is very common. Most of the time, infection with HPV doesn’t cause health problems and just goes away on its own. People usually don’t even know they have it. However, in some cases, HPV doesn’t go away. When that happens, some types of HPV can cause genital warts, while other types can lead to cancer.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV causes about 31,500 new cases of cancer every year in the United States. Almost all cervical cancer is caused by HPV. The virus has also been linked to cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and throat.
HPV gets passed from one person to another during skin-to-skin contact with an infected part of the body. It can be spread through sexual contact. You cannot get HPV from toilet seats, swimming pools, or sharing food. Almost everyone who is not vaccinated will get HPV at some time in their lives.
Vaccinations can protect people from getting the types of HPV that most often cause genital warts and cancer. The vaccinations work best when given to people when they’re young.
Vaccinating your child against HPV protects them from getting infected with HPV when they’re older. Even if someone waits until marriage to have sex, they could still get infected with HPV from their spouse. The vaccine does not lead to changes in sexual behavior. Studies show young people who get the vaccine do not start having sex any earlier than those who did not get the vaccine.
American Cancer Society recommendations:
*For people 22 to 26 years old who have not started the vaccines, or who have started, but not completed the series, it’s important to know that vaccination at older ages is less effective in lowering cancer risk.
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