Written on November 17, 2023 by Sendra Yang, PharmD, MBA. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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You may have wondered, “Is HPV deadly?” Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as being so common that almost all sexually active men and women who are not vaccinated will get the virus at some point in their lives.[1,2] In the United States, there were approximately 43 million HPV infections in 2018.[2,3] HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that spreads through skin-to-skin contact. There are over 200 related HPVs that can be transmitted by vaginal, anal, or oral sex. The different types of HPV can be categorized as low-risk or high-risk. HPV that causes genital warts is considered low-risk, while other high-risk HPVs can lead to cervical, anal, or oral cancers and be potentially deadly.
Most of the time, HPV will disappear on its own in about two years without causing any health problems. However, in cases where HPV does not go away, it can lead to health issues like genital warts. Genital warts typically appear as small bumps or groups of bumps in and around the genital areas. The bumps can be small, large, raised, flat, or shaped like cauliflower. A healthcare provider can usually diagnose them by looking at the genital areas.
Before the availability of the HPV vaccine, genital warts caused by HPV affected up to 360,000 people each year. The CDC estimates that at any given time, about one in 100 sexually active adults in the U.S. have genital warts. Genital warts can be treated by your healthcare provider or with a prescription medication. If genital warts are left untreated, they may go away, not change, or get worse by multiplying in size and number.
Cancer caused by HPV usually takes years to develop, and if it is not identified early enough or treated appropriately can lead to death. HPV can cause cervical and other types of cancers, such as vulva, vagina, penis, anus, or oropharyngeal (throat). According to the CDC, there are around 19,400 women and 12,100 men who have cancers caused by HPV. Cervical cancer is the leading cancer caused by HPV in women. Annually in the US, close to 200,000 women are diagnosed with a cervical pre-cancer. Of these, 11,100 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer caused by HPV. Approximately 4,000 women die from cervical cancer each year.
HPV is very common, but you can help decrease your chances of getting infected. The primary way to avoid getting HPV is to get vaccinated. The HPV vaccine can protect you against diseases caused by HPV, including cancers. The CDC recommends HPV vaccination for all preteen boys and girls at age 11 or 12 years old. For those not vaccinated at 11 or 12, the CDC recommends catch-up vaccinations for those aged 13 to 26. For those older than 26 years old, HPV vaccination is not recommended. However, based on a discussion with a healthcare provider and considering risks and benefits, some adults from 27 through 45 years old who are not already vaccinated may decide to get the HPV vaccine.
It’s also essential to get screened for cervical cancer. It is recommended for women aged 21 to 65 years old to get regular screening to help prevent cervical cancer. Women who get routine Pap tests and follow-ups as needed can help identify problems before cancer develops. Prevention and early detection are usually better than treatment after a cancer has progressed.
Additionally, if you are sexually active, using condoms appropriately every time you have sex can help reduce your chances of getting infected with HPV. However, you should note that HPV can still infect areas that the condom does not cover. Therefore, condoms may not fully protect you against getting an HPV infection. Having a new sexual partner at any age is regarded as a risk factor for a new HPV infection.
At Everlywell, if you think that you may have been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection, you can connect with a certified clinician in less than 2 hours through our online STD consults. Another option to consider is the available at-home lab tests. Everlywell has an at-home HPV test for females that screens for 14 high-risk HPVs and confirms HPV16 and HPV 18, which are associated with more than 70% of cervical cancer cases. If results are positive, you will have the opportunity to connect with an independent healthcare provider and may receive treatment if applicable.