Screening and the HPV vaccine have led to drops in cervical cancers over the last two decades in the U.S., a new study finds, but the gains are offset by a rise in other tumors caused by the virus.
Oral sex is helping fuel more cases of mouth and throat cancers in men. For older women, anal cancer and a rare type of rectal cancer caused by HPV may be more common than cervical cancers by 2025.
“A common misperception is the HPV vaccine has solved the problem of HPV-associated cancers. Unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Dr. Maura Gillison of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, who was not involved in the study.
Results were released Wednesday by the American Society of Clinical Oncology ahead of presentation at its annual meeting next month.
HPV, or human papillomavirus, is the nation’s most common sexually spread infection. Most HPV infections cause no symptoms and go away without treatment.
But some cause genital warts and others develop into cancers, about 35,900 each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the U.S., the HPV vaccine has been recommended since 2006 for girls at age 11 or 12, and since 2011 for boys the same age, and catch-up shots are recommended for anyone through age 26 who hasn't been vaccinated. Experts agree it will take years to see the true impact because it can take decades for a chronic HPV infection to turn into cancer.
What's driving the HPV cancer trends is the youthful sexual behavior of baby boomers before the vaccine was out. The vaccine works best when given at younger ages before people are exposed to HPV through sexual activity, so it arrived too late for the boomers.