About 90 percent of HPV infections are cleared by the body’s immune system within two years.
However, persistent infections with high-risk HPV strains can lead to cancer and genital warts.
Using a condom every time you have sex and being in a mutually monogamous relationship can lower your chances of getting HPV.
But because HPV is so common, the best protection against HPV — and HPV-related cancers — is being vaccinated before becoming sexually active.
“This is really a preventable disease and we need to tell people this is the most common sexually transmitted disease. It’s not just ‘those’ women or ‘those’ people who develop HPV-associated cancers. We’re all at risk,” Electra Paskett, PhD, program leader of the Cancer Control Program at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, told Healthline.
HPV vs. other STDs
Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV.
Some research estimates that as many as 75 percent of adults may have HPV at some point in their lives.
Symptoms may not develop until years after infection, making it difficult for people to know that they are infected.
And easy for new infections to occur — of which there are about 14 million in the United States each year.
New data from the CDC show just how common HPV is in the United States.
During 2013 to 2014, 45 percent of 18- to 59-year-old men had a strain of genital HPV. In women, the rate was 40 percent.
But fewer had a high-risk genital HPV that is more likely to lead to cancer — 25 percent of men and 20 percent of women.
Oral HPV was less common. During 2011 to 2014, 7 percent of adults aged 18 to 69 had a strain of oral HPV. Only 4 percent had one or more strain of high-risk oral HPV.
The first widespread estimate of HPV rates was done by the CDC for 2003 to 2006. The rates were similar to the latest report.
HPV is more common than chlamydia, which had 1.5 million new cases in 2015, according to the CDC.
There were also about 395,000 new cases of gonorrhea and 23,900 new cases of syphilis.
HPV also outranks herpes, which has about 776,000 new infections each year.
In addition to causing genital warts, HPV can also cause cervical and other cancers.
Cancer may not develop until years or decades after infection with HPV.
The CDC reports that 39,800 new cases of cancer occur each year in areas of the body where HPV is often found. HPV causes about 31,500 of these cases.
The most common HPV-related cancer in women is cervical cancer. The CDC estimates that 91 percent of cervical cancers are probably caused by HPV.
In 2013, more than 4,200 women in the United States died from cervical cancer.
In men, the most common HPV-related cancers appear at the back of the throat, base of the tongue, and tonsils. More than 70 percent of these cancers in men are most likely due to HPV.
HPV also causes cancers in the vagina, vulva, penis, anus, and rectum.
HPV vaccine against cancer
The CDC recommends that boys and girls get two doses of HPV vaccine when they are 11 or 12 years old.
In 2015, however, only 63 percent of girls and 50 percent of boys aged 13 to 17 received the first dose, according to CDC data.
This falls below the 86 percent first-dose vaccination rate for tetanus, diphtheria, acellular, pertussis (Tdap), which is given at the same age as the HPV vaccine.
This has health experts concerned.
“We can achieve high vaccination rates, as shown by Tdap.” said Paskett. “So why aren’t we there with HPV?”
Paskett said that low HPV vaccination rates may stem from parents not knowing about the vaccine, having concerns about its safety, or their doctors not recommending it.
She pointed out that the CDC has “a lot of data to say that the HPV vaccine is as safe as the Tdap and the meningococcal vaccines,” said Paskett.
Since 2006, when the vaccine was introduced, around 90 million doses have been distributed.
The most common side effects of the HPV vaccine are mild and the same as other vaccines — pain, redness, or swelling in the arm where the injection was given.
The CDC also reports that studies have found that the vaccine continues to offer protection 10 years after people have been vaccinated.
This long-term protection is starting to pay off, especially in countries that have good vaccination rates, like Australia.
“They’re seeing a reduction in the prevalence of HPV, a reduction in genital warts, and they’re starting to see reductions in pre-cervical cancer abnormalities,” said Paskett.