Understanding Health Disparities in HPV-Related Cancers

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ALL sexually active men and women will be infected by human papillomavirus (HPV) at some point in their lives. More than 100 types of this virus can be passed from one person to another during intimate contact.

While most cases resolve on their own, HPV still affects millions of people each year and has been linked to at least six different kinds of cancer that can affect the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, mouth and throat.

Health disparities exist due to socioeconomic gaps leading to certain groups being underserved and, therefore, experiencing higher rates of HPV-related cancers. These inequities in screening and treatment can profoundly affect individuals, families and whole communities.

The following factors contribute to these disparities:


HPV affects both men and women, but women get more HPV-related cancers than men. Because HPV is strongly linked to cervical cancer, the number of cases has gone down thanks to HPV vaccination and HPV testing. HPV screening can detect pre-cancers before they develop into cancers.

Healthcare access

Socioeconomic disadvantages result in certain groups having limited access to medical care. For example, research shows that whites have more access to healthcare and trust their doctors more than the non-white population.


Certain HPV-related cancers, such as anal, penile, vulvar and vaginal, occur at higher rates for older age groups. Age also plays a crucial role in survival rates as diagnosing cancer early leads to better treatment outcomes.


People living in big cities generally have more access to HPV vaccination than those in rural areas, where there may be less education on the importance of HPV vaccination.

Race and Ethnicity

Hispanic females have the highest cervical cancer rates, but black women are more likely to die from it. As a historically marginalized group, black women are less likely to have access to adequate care and receive potentially life-saving HPV screening. Lack of resources available to these groups also means a potential lack of awareness of its importance.

The harsh reality is that lower socioeconomic status may mean fewer opportunities to access to healthcare. This includes inequality in HPV vaccination coverage, which is currently the leading prevention program for HPV infection and HPV-related cancers.

Because HPV affects everyone at some point in their lives, communities should advocate HPV vaccination and increase awareness of HPV-related cancers, which are preventable and treatable when detected in their early stages.

It’s also vital that as a patient or a caregiver for family members, you understand your level of risk for HPV-related cancers and advocate for yourself or your loved one with healthcare providers. Be sure that you get regular screenings or additional tests if you suspect something is amiss. You know your body best, and your physician should be a partner in helping you achieve your best health.

Contact Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology today for HPV-related cancer treatment options. More than a thousand men and women diagnosed with cancer each year turn to our trusted team of cancer specialists. We encourage you to call us, ask us a question, or consult with us to get a second opinion so you, too, can experience the difference.