HPV is short for human papillomavirus. There are more than 40 HPV types that infect human mucosal surfaces, mostly the genitals and mouth/throat. Although most infections will go away naturally, some infections that don't go away can cause cancers in men and women.
HPV vaccine is a life-saving vaccine that protects against HPV infections that cause most cases of cervical cancer and many cases of other cancers, including cancers of the anus, penis, vulva, vagina, and oropharynx (back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils).
About 79 million people in the U.S., most in their teens and early 20s, are infected with HPV. About 14 million people become infected every year.
Preteens need the HPV vaccine now to prevent HPV cancers later in life. HPV vaccine works best when it is given to boys and girls at age 11 or 12 years. For HPV vaccines to be effective, they should be given before one is exposed to HPV. Very little exposure to HPV infection occurs at 11 and 12 years of age. Also, HPV vaccine produces the most antibodies, or infection-fighting proteins, during the preteen years.
For teens or young adults who have not started the series at 11 or 12 years, it's not too late. It is still beneficial to get the vaccine as soon as possible to prevent HPV infections that can lead to HPV-related cancers or genital warts. The vaccine is recommended for males and females up to age 26.
The HPV vaccine has a very good safety record. Like any vaccine or medicine, HPV vaccines can cause side effects. Common side effects are pain, redness, or swelling in the arm where the shot was given, as well as dizziness, fainting, nausea and headache. The benefits of HPV vaccination far outweigh any potential risk of side effects.
Take advantage of any visit to the doctor - checkups, sick visits, even physicals for sports, camps, or college - to ask the doctor about the HPV vaccine.