Race, Sex, and Age Can Make a Difference in Surviving HPV-Associated Cancers

Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV also causes many cancers in other parts of the body, such as the oropharynx (the base of the tongue, the tonsils, and the back of the throat), vagina, vulva, penis, anus, and rectum, although it doesn’t always cause cancer. You can get HPV by having sex with someone who is infected with it.

Researchers wanted to know how many people found to have invasive HPV-associated cancers survived the disease for at least five years after it was found. (Invasive means that the cancer has already spread into the part of the body where it started or into other body parts.) The researchers also wondered if there were differences in how likely people from one group were to survive compared to people in other groups.

How the Study Worked

The researchers got information from 27 state cancer registries about cases of cancers that can be caused by HPV, reported between 2001 and 2011. The 27 cancer registries covered more than half of the United States population. The researchers sorted these cancer survivors into groups based on certain characteristics, including race (white and black), sex (women and men), and age at diagnosis. The researchers then looked at how many of these people diagnosed with a cancer related to HPV lived at least five years after being told they had cancer.

Cancer registries keep records of cases of cancer diagnosed in a state each year. They record information about the type of cancer and about the patient. (All personal information, including names, is kept private except for very limited medical uses.) Every state has to have a cancer registry and keep records up to date. Through the National Program of Cancer Registries, CDC provides support for states and territories to maintain registries that provide high-quality data.

What the Study Found

  • White people were more likely than black people to live at least five years after being diagnosed with a cancer related to HPV.
  • In general, people were more likely to live at least five years after being diagnosed than people older than them. (For example, someone in the 40 to 49 year age range was more likely to live at least five years after diagnosis than someone in the 50 to 59 age range.)
  • People found to have HPV-associated cancers of the vagina, vulva, and anus when they were 40 to 49 years old were more likely to live at least five years than people diagnosed with these cancers when younger than 40 years old.
  • Women were more likely than men to live at least five years after being diagnosed with cancer of the anus or rectum related to HPV.
  • About two out of every three people with certain cancers were alive five years after they were diagnosed. These included cancers of the—
    • Cervix: 64.2%.
    • Vulva: 66.0%.
    • Anus: 65.9%.
  • For some other cancers, only about half of the people were alive five years after they were diagnosed. These included cancers of the—
    • Penis: 47.4%.
    • Oropharynx (base of the tongue, tonsils, and back of the throat): 51.2%.
    • Vagina: 52.8%.

What This Means

The differences in how many people in one group survive five years after diagnosis of HPV-associated cancers compared with those in another are examples of health disparities. This means that one group has better health outcomes than another group. An important public health goal is for people in all groups to be equally healthy and have the same access to health care.

What CDC Is Doing

CDC tries to lessen the suffering from cancer in two ways: by preventing it, when possible, or by catching and treating it early on. One important part of this approach is CDC’s National Comprehensive Cancer Control Program (NCCCP). Comprehensive cancer control (CCC) means getting everyone—health departments, doctors’ offices, community groups, cancer survivors and their families, and many others—involved in finding and using ways to prevent and control cancer. NCCCP provides funding and experience to help communities carry out CCC plans.

Another important part of what CDC does is managing the National Program of Cancer Registries, which collects information on cancers from state and territorial cancer registries all over the United States. We need this information so we know how many people have cancer, what kinds of cancer they have, and other important information.

How to Prevent HPV-Associated Cancers


Razzaghi H, Saraiya M, Thompson T, Henley SJ, Viens L, Wilson R. Five-year relative survival for human papillomavirus-associated cancer sites.external icon Cancer 2018;124(1):203–211.