Human papillomavirus (HPV) is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection of the genital areas, mouth, and throat of both females and males. There are over 100 types of HPV, some of which cause genital warts and various forms of cancer. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 80 million Americans are currently infected with HPV and about 14 million become newly infected each year, increasing the likelihood that any sexually active person may contract the infection. Most people will get at least one type of HPV infection during their lives, and most will never have any symptoms.
HPV, cancer, and precancer
The HPV vaccination prevents cancer.
Fifteen strains of HPV have been identified as risk factors for several cancers, including cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, penis, mouth, and throat. While 90% of HPV infections heal within two years, some cases become chronic and develop into cancer, often over a period of 10 to 30 years. According to the CDC, HPV causes approximately 33,000 new cancers each year, about two-thirds of which occur in women, and one-third in men. These are in addition to nearly 360,000 cases of genital warts in the U.S. each year.
Each year, HPV is also implicated in millions of cases of cervical dysplasia—a precancerous condition in which abnormal cell growth occurs on the surface lining of the cervix. These diagnoses often require follow-up procedures such as cryotherapy or loop electrosurgical excision procedures (LEEP). In addition to the financial costs and anxiety induced by such procedures, they can also increase the risk of preterm labor.
The HPV vaccine is recommended for girls and boys aged 11-12, and can be given through age 26. There are three U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccines that are effective at preventing HPV infection.
The CDC offers HPV resources and recommendations for parents, healthcare providers and partners. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also offers HPV resources for patients, and recommendations for healthcare providers.
UW Health Immunization Task Force/HPV Work Group Quality Improvement Initiative
The UW Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology is committed to preventing cancer by increasing the HPV vaccination rate at UW Health. As part of our efforts, providers and researchers have undertaken projects to help patients and providers better understand HPV and vaccination.
Jake Lauer, MD, of the UW Ob-Gyn Division of Academic Specialists in Ob-Gyn, completed a quality improvement project in 2018 that helped postpartum women in the catch-up age range (up to age 26) who had not received the HPV vaccine or had not completed the vaccine course get fully vaccinated against HPV.
In 2014, providers in the UW Department of Ob-Gyn worked with physicians in the UW Department of Pediatrics to conduct educational sessions on the HPV vaccine to providers and staff at 15 UW Health clinics. The sessions included facts about HPV, HPV-related cancers, and the HPV vaccine, as well as data regarding each individual clinic’s HPV vaccination rates in comparison with system, state and national rates.