HPV Vaccine

The HPV vaccine is the first vaccine ever to protect against cancer.

What is HPV?

HPV (human papillomavirus) is a common virus that affects both men and women. There are many different types of HPV. Most types do not cause any symptoms and will go away on their own. However, some types of HPV can cause diseases of the sex organs (genital area). If the virus does not go away on its own, it can develop into cervical cancer, abnormal cells, or genital warts, depending on the HPV type.

Who gets HPV?

You can get HPV from any sex act involving genital contact with a person who has HPV. The chance of getting HPV is greatly reduced by using protection (like a condom) during the sex act. Many people who have HPV may not show any signs of it. So, they can pass on the virus to others without even knowing it.  

What happens if I get HPV?

In most people, the body’s immune system will fight off HPV. If your body does not fight off HPV, it could develop into genital warts or abnormal cells in the cervix. Abnormal cells in the cervix could lead to cervical cancer.  

What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is cancer in the cervix. The cervix is the part of the uterus (womb) that opens to the vagina. Cervical cancer is a serious condition that can be life threatening. HPV is associated with almost all cases of cervical cancer.

What is the HPV vaccine used for?

The HPV vaccine will help protect you from cervical cancer. Gardisil (one brand of HPV vaccine) also helps protect you from genital warts. The vaccine helps prevent these diseases, but it will not treat them. You cannot get these diseases from the vaccine.

Who should receive the HPV vaccine?

The vaccine is for girls and women ages 9 through 26. You should not receive the HPV vaccine if you:

  • Are allergic to any if the ingredients in the vaccine
  • Have an allergic reaction after getting a dose of the vaccine

How is the HPV vaccine given?

The vaccine is given as a shot (an injection). Three doses of the vaccine are needed.

  • First dose: at a date chosen by you and your doctor or nurse
  • Second dose: 2 months after the first dose
  • Third dose: 6 months after the first dose

What else should I know about the HPV vaccine?

  • After getting the vaccine, you still need a check up every year. You still need a Pap test as often as your doctor or nurse tells you.
  • Like all vaccines, the HPV vaccine may not fully protect everyone who gets it.
  • This vaccine will not protect you from HPV types that you may already have been exposed to. And it will not protect you from other diseases that are not caused by HPV.
  • The vaccine works best when taken before the person has any contact with
    certain types of HPV.

What are the possible side effects of the HPV vaccine?

It is possible to have side effects after getting the HPV vaccine. The most commonly reported side effects include pain, swelling, itching, redness at the injection site, and fever. Difficulty breathing is possible but very rare.

If you have any unusual or severe symptoms after getting the HPV vaccine, call your doctor or nurse right away.

Will the vaccine help me if I already have HPV?

You may benefit from the vaccine if you already have HPV. If you do have HPV, it is unlikely that you have all 4 types of HPV contained in the vaccine. After you are vaccinated, you will be protected from the other HPV types contained in the vaccine.

What should I tell my health care professional before I am vaccinated or my child is vaccinated for HPV?

It is very important to tell your health care professional if you or your child:

  • Has had an allergic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine
  • Has a bleeding disorder and cannot receive shots in the arm
  • Has a weakened immune system (for example, due to a genetic defect or HIV infection)
  • Is pregnant or is planning to get pregnant soon
  • Has any illness with a fever more than 100 F (38 C)
  • Takes or plans to take any medicine, including over-the-counter medicine
    (medicine you can buy without a  prescription from your doctor)

Revised September 2011

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