Talk to Patients About: HPV
By Sean Price Texas Medicine March 2018

AS A PHYSICIAN, you understand how important and beneficial vaccinations are in controlling preventable diseases.

However, mistrust and misinformation have led to a growing movement against vaccines, driven in part, ironically, by how effective they’ve been in eradicating many infectious diseases.

To address this vexing problem, Texas Medicine each month will highlight a disease that childhood and adult vaccinations can prevent. This material is designed to help you talk to your patients about the realities of these diseases and to help them understand the benefits of vaccinations. 


HPV — short for human papillomavirus — is the world’s most common sexually transmitted infection. And it can cause cancer.

About 80 percent of people in the United States will get HPV. In many cases, it is spread outside of direct sexual intercourse.

According to the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, an estimated 79 million Americans are currently infected, and there are 14 million new infections each year — mostly among people in their teens and 20s.

Fortunately, most cases of HPV resolve on their own. If an HPV infection does show symptoms, it’s usually a case of genital warts or warts on the hands and feet.

But in other cases, HPV can cause cancer. There are at least 120 strains of HPV, and 13 of them cause cancer. They are responsible for many cervical, vulvar, vaginal, penile, anal, and oropharyngeal (head and neck) cancers.


HPV is the direct cause of virtually all cases of cervical cancer. According to the World Health Organization, cervical cancers are the world’s fourth most frequent cancer in women.

In the past five years, scientists have begun to better understand HPV’s role in causing other types of cancer, especially head and neck cancers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that about 70 percent of head and neck cancers are tied to HPV. Head and neck cancers tend to affect mostly men, usually when they reach their 40s or 50s.

Between 2008 and 2012, there were 11,700 cases of cervical cancer in women and 12,600 head and neck cancers in men, according to CDC. So the HPV vaccination is important for both men and women.

HPV vaccines are 97 percent to 100 percent effective at preventing cancer-causing HPV infections, and the vaccines have no known serious side-effects. They are most effective if given before the first exposure to the virus, which means before people become sexually active. However, older teens and people in their 20s who are sexually active still can benefit from vaccination.

CDC recommends two doses of vaccine six months apart for boys and girls younger than 15. Three doses are needed for those 15 and older.

Unlike other childhood vaccines, the HPV vaccination is not mandatory, and so vaccine rates remain low. The U.S. HPV vaccination rate in 2015 was 41.9 percent for females and 28.1 percent for males, CDC says. In Texas, those rates were 40.9 percent for females and 24 percent for males.

Higher vaccination rates would virtually eliminate all the cancers caused by HPV. 

Click here for printable copies of the posters below (in English and Spanish).




Last Updated On

January 09, 2019

Originally Published On

February 28, 2018

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HPV | Immunization

Sean Price


(512) 370-1392

Sean Price is a reporter for Texas Medicine and Texas Medicine Today. He grew up in Fort Worth and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. He's worked as an award-winning writer and editor for a variety of national magazine, book, and website publishers in New York and Washington. He's also helped produce Texas-based marketing campaigns designed to promote public health. Sean lives in Austin and enjoys hiking, photography, and spending time with his wife and two sons.

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