HPV Vaccine Can Prevent Cervical Cancer
By Lupe Cruz
Apr 5, 2017
Updated Nov 17, 2023
5 min read
Nearly 13,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, but the disease is virtually always preventable with vaccination and appropriate screening through pap and HPV tests.
HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a group of more than 150 related viruses. Each HPV virus in this large group is given a number called its HPV type. HPV is named for the warts (papillomas) some HPV types can cause. Other HPV types can lead to cancer. Men and women can get cancer of the mouth/throat, and anus/rectum caused by HPV infections. Men can also get penile HPV cancer. In women, HPV infection can also cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar HPV cancers. HPV is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact through vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse.
The HPV vaccine helps keep people from getting infected with HPV. It may also prevent mouth, throat, penile, and anal cancers. The vaccine doesn’t prevent any other types of sexually transmitted infections. Similar to other vaccines, it can help prevent infection, but doesn’t cure HPV in patients who have already acquired the disease.
It’s recommended that boys and girls get the vaccine between ages 9-26. For those who are 15 years and older, treatment consists of three vaccines over six months. Children younger than 15 years receive two vaccines six months apart.
It’s best to start the vaccine before becoming sexually active, as the treatment only works to prevent HPV, not to cure the infection. Talk to your provider, as he or she may still recommend the vaccine even if you’re already sexually active. It may still help you.
Side effects are minimal, but the injection may cause redness, swelling, or soreness at the site of the injection. Also, in rare cases it can cause the patient to pass out.
It’s still recommended that women start receiving regular pap smears at 21 years of age to test for cervical changes and HPV. Depending on your results, you may need to have a pap smear every 1-3 years.
There is no test for HPV in the throat, anus, or penis.
Most people infected with HPV don’t experience signs or symptoms and usually never develop any problems from the infection. Scientists have identified more than 100 types of HPV. Forty of these are known to infect the cervix, and 15 are known to cause cervical cancer. Because there are so many types, HPV infections are classified on a scale between high and low risk. If you become infected with HPV, your provider will be able to tell you more. In any case, it’s important to follow your provider’s recommendations for regular check-ups.