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Can HPV cause injury and death?

Updated February 03, 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 tends to occur in midlife and is most frequently diagnosed in women between the ages of 35 and 44. 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 15 percent 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 2018, the American Cancer Society estimates that in the U.S. (population of over 325 million):

  • About 13,240 cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed and result in 4,170 deaths. 
  • About 51,540 cases of oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer will be diagnosed and result in 10,030 deaths. 
  • About 5,170 cases of vaginal cancer will be diagnosed and result in 1,330 deaths. 
  • About 2,320 cases of penile cancer will be diagnosed and result in 380 deaths. 
  • About 8,580 cases (5,620 in women and 2,960 in men) of anal cancer will be diagnosed and result in 1,160 deaths (680 in women and 480 in men). 
  • About 6,190 cases vulva cancers will be diagnosed and result in 1,200 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 and are much less common than cervical cancer. 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 about 18,000 deaths,  less than three percent of the 595,000 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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