According to the . Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 14 million new HPV infections occur each year. Anyone who is sexually active is at risk for contracting the virus. An infection of HPV is typically harmless, and most people clear it on their own. People who have a high-risk strain of HPV are more likely to develop certain cancers of the mouth (oropharyngeal, or the middle part of the throat, as well as the soft palate, tonsils and back of the tongue), cervix, anus and genitals (including the vulva, vagina and penis).
Even though your chances of developing oropharyngeal cancer are slim, the number of these oral HPV-associated cancers has been rising. Caucasian, non-smoking men between the ages of 35 and 55 having the highest risk. In fact, males in this category have a 4 to 1 risk over females. A weakened immune system, due to diseases such HIV/AIDS or medications given after organ transplants, may also increase the risk, as well as a number of sexual partners and engaging in oral sex. The American Cancer Society says that smoking may increase the risk of oral HPV infection.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends routine HPV vaccination for girls and boys ages 11 and 12, as well as individuals ages 13 to 26 if they haven’t received the vaccine already. While not part of the original approval for use, today the Gardasil vaccine has also been approved for use in boys and men, ages 9 through 26 years old. These vaccines are most effective if given to children before they become sexually active. If you have already been exposed to HPV, the vaccines will not work for you. So vaccination at pre-sexual ages brings the most protection.