HPV rates up for women under 40, boosting cancer risk


Human papillomavirus infection rates are increasing in women born after 1980 who did not receive the HPV vaccine ā€” putting them at higher risk for HPV-related cancers, according to a University of Michigan study.

While more than 90 percent of HPV-related cancers are preventable, HPV causes more than 40,000 cases of cancer in the United States each year, including cervical, oropharyngeal, anal and other genital cancers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, estimate that at least half of all sexually active men and women will acquire HPV in their lifetime.

“If we know which groups of people have the highest rates of HPV, we can do a better job of preventing cancer through vaccination and screening,” said lead author Andrew Brouwer, a researcher at the School of Public Health.

Because testing for genital HPV started in 2003 for women and in 2013 for men, there are no direct measurements of how HPV incidence and prevalence have changed over the past decades ā€” before the vaccine became available for women in 2006 and for men in 2009.

Brouwer said previous analyses focused only on measures of current HPV infection (viral DNA) or past HPV infection (antibodies), producing sometimes competing results, making it difficult for experts to predict current and future trends.

For their analysis, Brouwer and his colleagues developed a model that uses both HPV infection and past infection data, as well as mathematical representations of the underlying mechanisms of infection, recovery and the generation of antibodies, to paint a better picture of HPV prevalence in the present and past.

Their model indicates that while there may be a substantial increase in HPV prevalence in more recent birth cohorts, HPV vaccination may ultimately control adverse HPV-related outcomes, including genital warts and cancer. Questions still remain, such as why there is a peak in HPV infection among 45- to 55-year-olds.

“Did everyone in this cohort have higher HPV throughout their lifetimes? Or is it more a function of biological or behavior changes when people reach this age?” Brouwer said.

Brouwer said his group will now try to understand how HPV is transmitted between genital, oral and anal sites, and plan to study multisite HPV infections in young people.



  1. Susan Montgomery
    on April 15, 2019 at 8:33 am

    The articles states that “the vaccine became available for women in 2006 and for men in 2009.” When the HPV vaccine first came out I eagerly asked/pleaded to get it because my mother died of cervical cancer possibly due to HPV infection. I was told that I could not have it because it had not been approved for women over the age of 24. It was not approved for such ages until Fall 2018:


    So the existence of the HPV vaccine wouldn’t have any influence on HPV infections for those of us who would have loved to have it but were denied it.

    • Andrew Brouwer
      on April 16, 2019 at 12:02 pm

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I am sorry to hear about your mother. Fortunately for those who have not been or are still not eligible, the vaccine is not our only cancer prevention method. Regular cervical cancer screening can help catch problems early and reduce the risk of death. Vaccines do also have a public health benefit by developing herd immunity in a population when coverage is high enough, which reduces risk for everyone, not just the vaccinated.

      • Susan Montgomery
        on April 16, 2019 at 12:35 pm

        Absolutely agree, just wanted to clarify for others about the limited availability of the vaccine to the older populations until recently, as article didn’t clarify that. Thanks and best wishes in this very important work!

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