Blog: What are the risks of HPV?

Published: May 26, 2023

Everyone should be aware of three significant risks from human papillomavirus (HPV).

The first risk: Both males and females are infected and affected by HPV. Most adults will get HPV in their lifetimes. In fact, there were about 43 million cases in 2018 with 13 million new infections each year. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The majority of cases of HPV go away on their own within two years. Some people may not even realize they have an infection because there may be no symptoms. For others, the experience is different — and the risks are much greater.

The second risk: HPV can cause six types of cancer, including cancer of the (1) anus, (2) back of the mouth and throat (oropharyngeal), (3) cervix, (4) penis, (5) vagina, and (6) vulva.

When precancerous cell changes are caught early during screening, like during a Pap test or a routine exam during a dental appointment, treatments are more effective. Doctors can help manage precancerous lesions by destroying them with laser therapy. But if HPV-related cancers progress, their treatments are similar to other forms of cancer, and may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these interventions.

After most cervical pre-cancer and cancer treatments, females may have difficulty maintaining their pregnancies. Cervical procedures increase the risks of pre-term labor.

The third risk: Some strains of HPV can cause warts on the genitals and anus and warts in the throat. Warts are removed using medicated cream, an electric current, freezing processes, or surgery.

So what can you do to help avoid the risks of HPV? The most effective way is to get the HPV vaccine well before exposure to the virus. The HPV vaccine is safe. In nearly 20 years, over 270 million doses of the HPV vaccine have been given worldwide.

Both males and females should get the vaccine. The CDC recommends that boys and girls ages 11 to 12 start the HPV vaccine series — though children as young as 9 can receive the vaccine.

All for Them, a vaccination project run by UTHealth Houston School of Public Health, can help connect children and adolescents with all of the vaccines they may need to protect their health both now and in the future — including the HPV vaccine.

The All for Them team coordinates free mobile vaccination clinics at select campuses in partnering school districts. By hosting clinics at the schools, students can get any vaccines they may be missing without having to miss much time in the classroom.

As an added benefit, parents and guardians can fill out consent forms for the clinics in advance. If they do, they do not have to attend the clinic. If parents would like to attend the clinic, they are more than welcome.

“I think what I really want parents to know is that we're doing what we think is best for their kids,” said Paula Cuccaro, PhD, principal investigator of All for Them. “This is something that's really important. They can prevent their children from having cancer as adults and going through that suffering.”

Find a free vaccination clinic near you at AllForThemVaccines.com.

Questions? Visit our FAQ page or contact the All for Them team at AllForThem@uth.tmc.edu or 866-255-1811.