Your Guide to Preventing HPV-Related Cancers

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

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What is HPV?

HPV, also known as human papillomavirus (say: pap-uh-loh-muh-vahy-ruhs), is a virus that lives on your skin. There are more than 100 types, and 40 are spread through sexual contact. Most HPV infections go away when your body’s immune system fights it off. But some types can lead to cancer.

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What is 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 HPV can cause genital warts, but it usually does not lead to serious health problems.
  • High Risk HPV can lead to cancer, even years after infection.
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What are the 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 infection (STI) in the United States.
  • HPV causes 2 out of 10 cancers in the back of the tongue and tonsils.
  • HPV causes 9 out of 10 cervical and anal cancers.
  • The HPV vaccine can prevent up to 6 types of cancer.
  • Almost 85% of people 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.
  • 1 out of every 10 people develop an HPV infection that does not go away.
  • 9 out of 10 with an HPV-related cancer could have prevented it by getting the vaccine before they were exposed to HPV.
  • People of all genders can get HPV-related cancers.
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How Can I Prevent HPV?

Get Vaccinated

The HPV vaccine is a shot that your healthcare provider gives you in the arm. The vaccine can protect you from the 9 most common types of HPV.

  • Everyone ages 9 to 45 can get the vaccine.
  • It’s best to get the vaccine between ages 9 and 12. But it will still protect you if you get it when you’re older.
  • For people age 15 and older, the vaccine is given in 3 shots. After the first shot, it’s given 1 month and 6 months later.
  • You’re protected for life when you get the recommended vaccine doses.
  • Even if you tested positive for HPV in the past, you still should get vaccinated.
  • Getting the HPV vaccine does not make it harder to get pregnant in the future.

Talk with your healthcare provider to learn more.

Use condoms and dental dams during sexual activity

Use condoms and dental dams (a thin sheet that protects against mouth to skin contact) during anal, vaginal, and oral sex. This can lower your 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. Cervical Pap smears look for cell changes that can become cancer if they are not treated. HPV tests look for high-risk types of HPV in the cells in your cervix.

If you have abnormal Pap smear results or a positive HPV test result, you may need more tests or treatment. A positive HPV test result means the test found HPV.

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 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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Will HPV Affect My Pregnancy?

Some types of HPV can be passed from mother to baby. This is rare. The types that can be passed do not cause cancer.

Will My Health Insurance Cover the HPV Vaccine?

Most health insurance plans cover the cost of the HPV vaccine. Ask your insurance company if yours does.

If your health insurance doesn’t cover the vaccine and you’re younger than 18, you can get it for free. It’s offered through the Vaccines for Children program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Visit to learn more.

If you’re between age 18 and 20, you can get the vaccine for free under Medicaid. Most health insurance covers the cost of the HPV vaccine. Ask your insurance company to make sure.

MSK accepts most health plans. If you are not covered, we may be able to help. Call for more information.

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Our Locations

New York

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
MSK Commack Nonna’s Garden Foundation Center
MSK Nassau
MSK Ralph Lauren Center
MSK Westchester

New Jersey

MSK Basking Ridge
MSK Bergen
MSK Monmouth

For more information, or to schedule your HPV vaccine, call 646-497-9875.

MSK accepts most health plans. If you’re not covered, we may be able to help.

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