HPV and Latino Health
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common sexually transmitted infection that can lead to many health problems for Latinos and all racial and ethnic groups. Learn how to reduce your risk and ways to prevent HPV infection.
What is HPV?
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, and is a different virus than HIV and HSV (herpes). HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives. You can get HPV by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus, and it can be passed between partners even when an infected person has no signs or symptoms. In most cases, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. But when it doesn't go away, it can cause health issues like genital warts and cervical and throat cancer.
HPV Among Hispanic and Latino Women
Hispanic women in the United States have higher rates of cervical cancer than women in other racial or ethnic groups.1 And in Puerto Rico specifically, cervical cancer is the sixth most commonly diagnosed cancer among women. In a 2014 study of Puerto Rican Adolescents and their mothers, researchers found that women's knowledge about HPV and HPV vaccination was low, especially among mothers.2 Additionally, women's concerns about the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine seemed to be related to the thought that the HPV vaccine had neither been promoted in Puerto Rico nor recommended by their health care provider. Other studies with Hispanic populations reported similar concerns about HPV vaccination.3,4,5
The report, published in CDC's Preventing Chronic Disease, also revealed that few young women questioned as part of the study knew that cervical cancer is caused by HPV, or that risk is increased by having multiple sexual partners, or lack of routine screening. Unvaccinated women had little knowledge about HPV or the vaccine. Most mothers questioned had difficulty explaining what cervical cancer is, and some mothers of unvaccinated girls thought that cervical cancer was fatal like HIV.
It is important for Latinos and all racial and ethnic groups to know what HPV is and the risks associated with the virus and other sexually transmitted infections. Despite increases, coverage estimates for the HPV vaccine among U.S. teens remained low in 2014, according to the 2104 National Immunization Survey-Teen. Four out of ten adolescent girls and six out of ten adolescent boys haven't started the HPV vaccine series, and are vulnerable to cancers caused by HPV infections, according to the report. Cancers caused by HPV include cervical cancer and cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. It can also cause cancer in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (called oropharyngeal cancer).
Reduce Your HPV Risk
There are ways for you to reduce your risk of getting HPV. Vaccination, abstaining from smoking, and having regular cancer screenings are a few ways you can reduce your chances of health problems caused by HPV infection.
The HPV vaccine is also a safe and effective way to prevent the HPV infections that most commonly cause cancer. HPV vaccination is most effective when the complete HPV vaccine series is given at 11 or 12 years old, and the vaccine is recommended for all boys and girls at this age. HPV vaccination is also recommended for males through age 21 and for females through age 26, if they did not get the vaccine when they were younger. HPV vaccination is also recommended for gay and bisexual men (or any man who has sex with a man), as well as for men with compromised immune systems through age 26, if they did not get fully vaccinated when they were younger.
For those who are sexually active, condoms may lower the risk of HPV infections that can cause genital warts or cancer. To be most effective, a condom should be used with every sex act, from start to finish. But HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom—so condoms may not fully protect against HPV infection.
People can also lower their chances of getting HPV by being in a faithful relationship with one partner, limiting their number of sex partners, and being with a partner who has had no or few prior sex partners. But even people with only one lifetime sex partner can get HPV and the health problems caused by HPV infection.
- Siegel R, Naishadham D, Jemal A. Cancer statistics for Hispanics/Latinos, 2012. CA Cancer J Clin 2012;62(5):283–98.
- Figueroa-Valles N, Ortiz-Ortiz KJ, Perez-Rios N, Villanueva-Rosa E, Traverso-Ortiz M, Torres-Cintron CR, et al. Cancer in Puerto Rico, 2004–2009. Puerto Rico Central Cancer Registry. San Juan, PR 2012;1-66.
- Morales-Campos DY, Markham CM, Peskin MF, Fernandez ME. Hispanic mothers' and high school girls' perceptions of cervical cancer, human papilloma virus, and the human papilloma virus vaccine. J Adolesc Health 2013;52(5, Suppl):S69–75.
- Kepka DL, Ulrich AK, Coronado GD. Low knowledge of the three-dose HPV vaccine series among mothers of rural Hispanic adolescents. J Health Care Poor Underserved 2012;23(2):626–35.
- Yeganeh N, Curtis D, Kuo A. Factors influencing HPV vaccination status in a Latino population; and parental attitudes towards vaccine mandates. Vaccine 2010;28(25):4186–91.