Given that there is a vaccine for it, you may be surprised to learn that HPV (human papillomavirus) remains the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. The infection can (but does not always) cause warts on the skin and genitals. Infection with HPV raises your risk for several different kinds of cancer, including cervical, anal, penile, and head and neck (most commonly in men).
Nearly 80 million Americans, or one in four, are currently infected with HPV. An estimated 14 million people, including teenagers, become infected with it each year.
“I think one of the reasons HPV is not on people’s radars is because it doesn’t necessarily cause symptoms, like other sexually transmitted diseases might,” says Sangini S. Sheth, MD, MPH, a Yale Medicine obstetrician-gynecologist. “But HPV is responsible for the vast majority of genital warts and other precancerous and cancerous conditions. In the past year, the number of cases of oral cancer has surpassed cervical cancer in the United States and that’s related to oral sex and HPV infection.”
At Yale Medicine, a multidisciplinary group of experts are actively researching HPV infection and associated diseases. “In particular, there have been and continue to be important research studies at Yale to understand the challenges of HPV immunization and how we can improve vaccination rates,” Dr. Sheth says. “We are also investigating novel therapeutics for cervical and head and neck cancers.”