Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. Some types can cause health problems including cancers.

The results of a study released by the CDC on April 6 show that more than 1 in 5 U.S. adults are infected with cancer-causing HPV.

“We tend to overlook the fact that 20 percent of us are carrying the virus that can cause cancer,” said Geraldine McQuillan, lead author of the report and a senior infectious-disease epidemiologist in the Division of Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. “People really need to realize that this is a serious concern.”

During 2011-14, prevalence of any oral HPV among adults aged 18-69 was 7.3 percent and high-risk oral HPV was 4.0 percent. Prevalence of any and high-risk oral HPV was lowest among non-Hispanic Asian adults and any oral HPV was highest among non-Hispanic black adults.

During 2013–2014, any genital HPV prevalence among adults aged 18-59, was:

  • 42.5 percent in the total population,
  • 45.2 percent among men,
  • 39.9 percent among women.

High-risk genital HPV prevalence was:

  • 22.7 percent in the total population,
  • 25.1 percent among men,
  • 20.4 percent among women.

In the U.S., the CDC estimates 31,000 women and men are diagnosed with a cancer caused by HPV infection. Cervical cancer accounts for 1 in 3 cancers caused by HPV infection. While there is screening for cervical cancer, there is no routine screening for the other 20,000 cancers caused by HPV infections each year. Often these cancers — such as cancers of the back of the throat (oropharynx) and cancers of the anus/rectum — aren’t detected until later stages when they are difficult to treat.

Most cervical cancer cases are seen in women under the age of 50. Women of African ancestry have a higher risk factor than caucasian women.

The Washington Post reported that lingering misconceptions and fears are among the reasons for the lower use of HPV vaccination, according to Electra Paskett, a cancer control researcher at Ohio State University's Comprehensive Cancer Center. Some people still think vaccination encourages youth to become promiscuous. “The way [the vaccine] was introduced in Australia and the United Kingdom was as a cancer vaccine, which is truly what it is. It is a cancer vaccine,” Paskett said.

Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2011-14 were used for these analyses. NHANES is a program of studies designed to assess the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the U.S. The survey is unique in that it combines interviews and physical examinations.