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Can HPV cause injury and death?

Updated May 27, 2023

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HPV infection usually causes no symptoms and most women and men clear the infection within one to two years.  Antibodies to the HPV type that caused the infection remain in the body to help prevent future infections of that HPV type but the duration of protective immunity is unknown. 

Most, But Not All, HPV Infections Resolve Spontaneously - Sometimes an HPV infection does not clear from the body and thus, becomes a chronic infection. After many years of undetected chronic HPV infection, cervical, and other genital or oral cancers can develop and cause disability or death. The CDC states that, “Although the incidence of infection is high, most infections resolve spontaneously. A small proportion of infected persons become persistently infected; persistent infection is the most important risk factor for the development of cervical cancer.” 

Persistent HPV infection associated with development of cervical cancer is clinically manifested in women by cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), which are referred to as “pre-cancerous” lesions. Low-grade CIN (CIN 1) may spontaneously resolve when infection clears from the body or it may progress to CIN 2 or CIN 3, which may lead to cervical cancer, if the pre-cancerous lesions are left undetected and untreated for years. 

The American Cancer Society states “Cervical cancer is most frequently diagnosed in women between the ages of 35 and 44 with the average age at diagnosis being 50 . It rarely develops in women younger than 20. Many older women do not realize that the risk of developing cervical cancer is still present as they age. More than 20% of cases of cervical cancer are found in women over 65. However, these cancers rarely occur in women who have been getting regular tests to screen for cervical cancer before they were 65.” 

Women Need Pap Test Screening - Whether women have gotten HPV vaccinations or not, routine Pap test screening is recommended for all women to detect high grade CINs and receive prompt treatment in order to prevent cervical cancer from developing.   

Six HPV-Related Cancers - In addition to cervical cancer, there are five other cancers associated with chronic HPV infection: mouth and throat (oropharyngeal), vaginal, penile, anal and vulvar. In 2023, the American Cancer Society estimates that in the U.S. (population of over 334 million):

  • About 13,960 cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed and result in 4,310 deaths. 
  • About 54,540 cases of oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer will be diagnosed and result in 11,580 deaths. 
  • About 8,470 cases of vaginal cancer will be diagnosed and result in 1,740 deaths. 
  • About 2,050 cases of penile cancer will be diagnosed and result in 470 deaths. 
  • About 9,760 cases (6,580 in women and 3,180 in men) of anal cancer will be diagnosed and result in 1,870 deaths (860 in women and 1,010 in men). 
  • About 6,470 cases vulva cancers will be diagnosed and result in 1,670 deaths. 

The CDC states, “About 10% of women with high-risk HPV on their cervix will develop long-lasting HPV infections that put them at risk for cervical cancer. Similarly, when high-risk HPV lingers and infects the cells of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, or the oropharynx (back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils), it can cause cell changes called precancers. These may eventually develop into cancer if they're not found and removed in time. These cancers are much less common than cervical cancer. Much less is known about how many people with HPV will develop cancer in these areas.” 

Low Number of HPV-Related Cancer Deaths – Each year, six HPV associated cancers cause 21,640 deaths,  less than three percent of the 602,350 annual U.S. cancer deaths. 

IMPORTANT NOTE: NVIC encourages you to become fully informed about HPV and the HPV vaccine by reading all sections in the Table of Contents , which contain many links and resources such as the manufacturer product information inserts, and to speak with one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination decision for yourself or your child. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.


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