Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that infects both women and men. Although most HPV infections go away on their own, infections that don’t go away can cause changes in the cells and lead to cancer. Fortunately, the HPV vaccine is a powerful tool to prevent most of these cancers from developing.
Here are five important things to know about HPV:
1. While cervical cancer is the most common and well-known HPV cancer, it’s not the only type of cancer HPV infections can cause. They can also cause:
- cancers of the cervix, vagina and vulva in women
- cancer of the penis in men
- cancers of the anus and back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils in men and women
Every year in the United States, 27,000 women and men are diagnosed with a cancer caused by HPV infection — that’s a new case of cancer every 20 minutes.
2. HPV vaccination is recommended at ages 11 or 12.
HPV vaccination is recommended for preteen girls and boys (ages 11-12) to protect against cancer-causing HPV infections before they are exposed to the virus. HPV vaccination provides the best protection when given at the ages of 11-12.
3. Screening isn’t an alternative to HPV vaccination.
Every year, 4,000 women in the U.S. die from cervical cancer — even with routine screening and treatment. There is no routine screening test for the other cancers HPV causes. Many of those HPV cancers are not discovered until they are late stage or invasive and can be painful, disfiguring and even deadly.
That’s why it’s so important for girls and boys to get the full HPV vaccine series. HPV vaccines are given as a series of three shots over six months. Women who have had the HPV vaccine should still begin cervical cancer screenings when they reach age 21.
4. HPV vaccination also prevents invasive testing and treatment for “precancers.”
Every year in the U.S., more than 300,000 women endure invasive testing and treatment for changes in the cells on the cervix that can develop into cancers. Testing and treatment for these “precancers” can cause lasting problems such as cervical instability which can lead to preterm labor and preterm birth. HPV vaccination protects against the types of HPV that cause the majority of the cervical cancers and precancers.
5. HPV vaccination is protecting children from HPV disease.
In the four years after the vaccine was recommended in 2006, the amount of HPV infections among teen girls in the U.S. dropped by more than half. Also, fewer young women are being diagnosed with cervical precancer caused by HPV infections. HPV vaccination is critical to protecting the next generation against cancers caused by HPV infections.