Your Guide to Preventing HPV-Related Cancers

This information explains what human papillomavirus (HPV) is and what you can do to prevent it. 

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What is HPV?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that lives on the skin. There are more than 100 types, and 40 are spread through sexual contact. Most HPV infections go away when the body’s immune system fights it off, but some types can lead to cancer.

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Know Your Risk

Almost everyone who is sexually active will get HPV. The types of HPV that spread during sexual contact fall into 2 groups, low risk and high risk.

Low Risk

  • Can cause genital warts, but usually doesn’t lead to serious health problems.
  • Types 6 and 11 are most common.

High Risk

  • Can lead to cancer, even years later.
  • Types 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58 are most common.
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6 Types of Cancer Caused by HPV

Figure 1. 6 types of cancer caused by HPV

Figure 1. 6 types of cancer caused by HPV

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Did You Know?

  • HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the United States.
  • 80% of cancers in the back of the tongue or tonsils are caused by HPV.
  • 90% of HPV-related cancers can be prevented by getting the vaccine before you’re exposed to HPV.
  • The HPV vaccine can prevent up to 6 types of cancer.
  • Almost 85% of adults between the ages of 18 and 65 will have at least 1 type of HPV at some point in their life.
  • Every year, more than 40,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with a cancer caused by HPV.
  • About 10% of people develop an HPV infection that does not go away.
  • At least 90% of all cervical and anal cancers are caused by HPV.
  • Men can get HPV-related cancers, too.
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How Can I Prevent HPV?

Get vaccinated

There is a vaccine that can prevent human papillomavirus (HPV) infection from the 9 most common types, including the 7 high-risk types that cause most HPV-related cancers. It’s best to get the vaccine between ages 9 and 12. Getting the vaccine as recommended protects a person for their entire life. Everyone ages 9 to 45 can get the vaccine. Talk with your healthcare provider to learn more.

Use condoms and dental dams during sexual activity

Using condoms and dental dams during anal, vaginal, and oral sex can lower the risk of getting HPV. But it does not prevent it. Getting the vaccine is the best way to prevent HPV.

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How Can I Prevent HPV-Related Cancers?

Get tested and screened

Cervical Pap smears and HPV tests can find HPV early. Talk with your healthcare provider about which tests you need.

Head and neck exams can help find problems early if you have risk factors, such as exposure to HPV, drinking, and smoking. Every July, MSK offers free head and neck screenings at many locations.

We recommend anal pap smears for screening and surveillance of people who are HIV positive and men who have sex with men. Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk for HPV and which tests are right for you.

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Our Locations

New York

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
MSK Commack MSK Nassau
MSK Ralph Lauren Center
MSK Westchester

New Jersey

MSK Basking Ridge
MSK Bergen
MSK Monmouth

For more information about gynecological cancers, visit or call 800-525-2225.

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