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Human papillomavirus (HPV)

There are more than 200 types of human papillomavirus (HPV) – 40 of them can cause infections of the genital area, mouth, and throat. Genital HPV infections are very common. Most people (80%) who are sexually active will get HPV at some point in their lives. About 14 million Americans, including teens, become infected with HPV each year.

The majority of people who get HPV will have no symptoms. But there are at least 6 types of HPV that can cause cancer. Cervical cancer is the most common, but other cancers include vulvar, vaginal, penile, anal, mouth, and throat cancers.

Each year about 13,800 new cases of invasive cervical cancer are diagnosed, and about 4,290 women die from cervical cancer. Almost all of those cases are due to HPV.

The HPV vaccine is very effective. Since being recommended in 2006, HPV infections have decreased by 85% in girls aged 14 – 19 and 71% in women in their early 20s.

The HPV vaccine is very safe. Some anti-vaccine individuals have tried to cast doubt on the safety of the vaccine, but the facts speak for themselves:

  • Scientists have extensively studied HPV vaccines for more than 12 years.
    More than 74,000 individuals participated in clinical trials studying the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines.
  • Healthcare providers have safely administered more than 120 million doses of the HPV vaccine, protecting millions of young people from cancer.

Like any vaccine or medication, there can be side effects, but they are usually mild, including:

  • soreness in the arm where the vaccination is received (occurring in about 1 out of 5 children)
  • dizziness or fainting (more common in adolescents – it is recommended that teens stay seated or lying down for 15 minutes after getting the vaccine)
  • nausea
  • headache

Mild vaccine reactions are normal and signs the body is mounting an immune response to protect against HPV. Serious adverse reactions are rare – about 3 cases of anaphylaxis are reported per 1 million doses.

All 11–12-year-old boys and girls need two doses of the HPV vaccine to protect against cancers caused by HPV infections. These cancers can affect both men and women.

We get it; you don’t want to think about your young teen being sexually active so you might be hesitant to get them vaccinated, but there are excellent reasons to vaccinate on time:

  • Better protection: 11 -12-year olds have a stronger immune response to the HPV vaccine than teens who are vaccinated later.
  • Easier to complete the series: There are more chances to vaccinate (and complete the vaccine series) since doctors tend to see pre-teens more than teens for well visits.
  • Lower risk of exposure: The HPV vaccine only works if the series is complete BEFORE a person is infected, and almost no 9 -12-year olds have HPV.
  • More effective: Early vaccination prevents significantly more pre-cancer than later vaccination.

Talk to your healthcare provider about what vaccines your family needs.

Does your child have an upcoming HPV vaccine appointment? Be prepared by downloading our HPV vaccine fact sheet.

Learn more

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How do I know this information is credible?

We work for parents so we make sure that parent concerns are addressed using facts and science and our content is reviewed by experts who have spent their careers studying vaccines. Learn more about how we ensure we are bringing you the best information to help you make healthy choices for your family.

HPV vaccine is a great success story in our battle against cancer. In the 6 years after vaccination started: 64% drop in cancer-causing HPV infections (in girls 14 – 19) 47% lower risk of cervical pre-cancer (among young people vaccinated) Number don’t lie – the HPV vaccine is one of our best weapons against cancers that can rob our children of their future.
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