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HPV Vaccine

Safe and effective, the vaccine helps prevent HPV-related cancers.

What is the HPV Vaccine?

Short for human papillomavirus, HPV is considered the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. There are more than 100 strains, about 40 of which can infect the mouth, throat, vulva, vagina, cervix, rectum, anus, penis and scrotum.

Some people show no symptoms. Others develop genital warts. However, about 20,260 women and 13,477 men a year develop cancers related to HPV infection, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The HPV vaccine can prevent some of the HPV’s serious health effects.

Risks and Prevention

What is my risk of getting HPV?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, people who are sexually active will likely experience at least one genital HPV infection at some point in their lives. Vaginal, anal and oral sex can spread the virus, even if you or your partner do not exhibit symptoms at the time you have sex. 

You increase your risk by having more sexual partners. It also increases if they’ve had several previous partners. If you have a weak immune system, your risk is also higher.

How can I prevent HPV?

Reduce your number of sexual partners and use a latex condom. But remember, a condom can’t protect some of the areas that HPV can infect.

The HPV vaccine can protect against HPV-related diseases, including cancer, when it’s correctly administered to patients in specific age groups.

What are the symptoms of HPV infection?

You can get infected HPV and experience no symptoms. Your body’s natural immune response might successfully fight the infection, which will go away without treatment.

Strains that survive can cause genital warts. On women, the warts might appear on the vulva, near the anus, on the cervix or in the vagina. On men, the warts are on the penis, scrotum and near the anus.

Some types of HPV, however, can cause cancer of the cervix, anus, penis, vagina, vulva and the back of the throat, including the tongue and tonsils. (Cancer in the back of the throat is known as oropharyngeal cancer.)

Typically, these cancers can develop years after you’ve been infected.

Women may learn that they have HPV when a Pap test is abnormal, which is why it’s important to schedule regular screenings.

The Vaccine

Who should get the HPV vaccine?

The CDC recommends that girls and boys at age 11 or 12 should begin the vaccination series. Some start as early as age 9. Why so young? The goal is to vaccinate adolescents before they become sexually active and are exposed to the virus. What’s more, the body’s immune response to the vaccine is better at age 11 or 12 than it is in later adolescence or young adulthood.

Teens and adults, ages 15 to 26, can also begin a series of vaccinations. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved the use of Gardasil 9 for males and females through age 45.

For a list of age guidelines, visit Who Should Get the HPV Vaccine?

Does the HPV vaccine have side effects?

Other than injection-site reactions, the vaccine is generally well tolerated. Possible side effects include:

    • Pain, redness, or swelling in the arm
    • Fever
    • Headache
    • Fatigue
    • Nausea
    • Muscle or joint pain

    How well does the HPV vaccine protect against HPV infections, and for how long?

    According to the CDC, the vaccine has significantly reduced HPV infections since it was first recommended in 2006. The number of HPV-associated conditions has likewise declined. Studies have found that the vaccines are effective for up to 10 years, and long-term research is still in progress, the National Cancer Institute reports.

    The combination of the vaccine and the proper cancer screenings can significantly lower the risk of getting certain cancers.