HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a group of more than 150 related viruses that can cause warts (or papillomas) and cancer — which affects more than 33,000 Americans annually. HPV infections can cause these kinds of cancers:
- Men and women can get cancer of the mouth, throat, and anus/rectum
- Women can get cancer of the cervix, vagina, and vulva
- Men can get cancer of the penis
HPV vaccine is recommended for girls and boys starting at age 9 in order to provide the best protection against HPV infections and HPV cancers.
It’s best to start the vaccine before becoming sexually active or before close skin-to-skin genital contact, since the treatment only works to prevent HPV, not to cure the infection. Talk with your provider to decide the best option for you or your child.
Scientists have identified more than 100 types of HPV. Forty infect the cervix and 15 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 give you further information to help you understand more about your or your child’s HPV type.
Most people infected with HPV don’t experience signs or symptoms and usually never develop any problems from the infection. But it’s important to follow your provider’s recommendations for regular check-ups.
The HPV vaccine helps keep people from getting infected with HPV. It may also prevent mouth, throat, cervical, penile, and anal cancers. The vaccine doesn’t prevent any other types of sexually transmitted infections. Like other vaccines, it can help prevent infection and certain cancer types, but doesn’t cure HPV in patients who’ve already acquired the disease.
Over 12 years of monitoring and research have shown that HPV vaccination is very safe. Each HPV vaccine went through years of extensive safety testing before it was licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA only licenses a vaccine if it’s safe, effective, and offers benefits that outweigh its risks.
With all approved vaccines, the CDC and FDA closely monitor the safety of HPV vaccines after they’re licensed. Any safety concerns related to these vaccines are reported to health officials, healthcare professionals, and the public.
Boys and girls should 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 receive two vaccines six months apart.
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.