HPV: Should I Get the Vaccine?

You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

HPV: Should I Get the Vaccine?

Get the facts

Your options

  • Get the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine.
  • Don't get the HPV vaccine.

Key points to remember

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the vaccine for those 13 to 26 years old who didn't get the vaccine when they were younger.
  • The HPV vaccines Cervarix and Gardasil protect against the most common types of HPV (human papillomavirus) that cause cervical cancer or genital warts. But they don't protect against all types of HPV that can cause these conditions.
  • The vaccine is given in a series of three shots over 6 months. For it to work best, you need to get all three shots.
  • The best time to get the vaccine is before you become sexually active. But it also protects against HPV after you're sexually active (if you haven't already been infected). When the vaccine is given before you're sexually active, it can prevent almost all infection by the types of HPV the vaccine guards against.
  • The HPV vaccines were tested in thousands of people before being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and there were no serious side effects. You can't get HPV from the vaccine.
FAQs

How do you get HPV?

HPV stands for human papillomavirus. You can get HPV by having sex or skin-to-skin genital contact with someone who has the virus. Infection with HPV is common, especially among young people. Half of all sexually active people in the United States will get HPV.1 But most people never know they have the virus, because it may not cause any symptoms.

There are more than 100 types of human papillomavirus. But only some types of HPV lead to cervical cancer or genital warts.

  • Cervical cancer happens when HPV causes abnormal cells in the cervix to grow out of control. HPV can stay in your body for a long time. It can take 10 years or more for a woman to get cancer from an HPV infection. Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in women.
  • Genital warts (skin growths) may or may not cause symptoms. Even if you treat visible warts, or if the warts go away without treatment, the HPV infection can stay in the body's cells. It's possible to spread genital warts to a sex partner even if you can't see the warts.

What is the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccines can help protect people from being infected with some of the most common types of the virus. The HPV vaccines Cervarix and Gardasil protect girls and young women against the two most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. Gardasil also protects against the two most common types of HPV that cause genital warts.

Females may use either Cervarix or Gardasil. Males may use Gardasil.

The HPV vaccine is a series of three shots given over 6 months. For the vaccine to work best, you need to get all three shots.

The vaccine doesn't treat an HPV infection. But it may protect a person against types of the HPV virus other than the one causing the infection.

Health insurance may cover all or part of the cost of the vaccine. But if you don't have health insurance, check with your local health department, clinic, or hospital about getting low-cost vaccine.

When should you get the HPV vaccine?

For girls and women who have not already had the vaccine, it is recommended up to age 26. For boys and men who have not already had the shots, the vaccine is recommended up to age 21. It is also recommended for men through age 26 who have sex with men or who have a weakened immune system. This may happen because of certain medicines or a condition such as HIV infection.

The best time to get the vaccine is before you become sexually active. But it also protects against HPV after you're sexually active (if you haven't already been infected). When the vaccine is given before you become sexually active, it can prevent almost all infection by the types of HPV the vaccine guards against.2

What are the benefits of the HPV vaccine?

The vaccine can reduce your risk of getting genital warts or cervical cancer caused by some of the most common types of HPV infection. The HPV vaccine also helps protect against cancers of the anus, vagina, and vulva. Research is under way to see if the vaccine also can be used to prevent oral cancers.3

The HPV vaccines were tested in thousands of people before being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and there were no serious side effects. You can't get HPV from the vaccine, and it doesn't contain mercury.

How long does the HPV vaccine last?

The vaccine series helps protect against certain types of HPV for at least 5 years. Studies are under way to see how long the vaccine will last and if a booster shot is needed. A booster shot is another dose of the vaccine that is given after the first series of shots.

What are the risks of the HPV vaccine?

Some people may have mild side effects such as a low-grade fever and soreness in the arm where the shot was given. But neither lasts long. Your doctor may have you stay in the office for up to 15 minutes after the shot is given, to watch for any reactions.

Will you need Pap tests after getting the HPV vaccine?

Even though the HPV vaccine protects against most cervical cancers, women will need to get regular Pap tests to check for cervical cancer. This is because there are some types of HPV that the vaccine doesn't prevent. Pap tests look for cells that may be, or can lead to, cervical cancer. If these cells are found early and treated, you may prevent cervical cancer. Experts recommend that women start having Pap tests at age 21.

Compare your options

Compare

What is usually involved?









What are the benefits?









What are the risks and side effects?









Get the HPV vaccine Get the HPV vaccine
  • You get three shots over 6 months.
  • The vaccine can reduce your risk of getting genital warts.
  • It helps protect women from getting cervical cancer.
  • It helps protect your partner or partners from genital warts and anal and vaginal cancers.
  • Possible side effects include a low fever and soreness where the shot was given.
Don't get the HPV vaccine Don't get the HPV vaccine
  • You may decide to wait until more information is available about how well the vaccine works.
  • You can talk to your doctor about other ways to reduce your chance of infection, such as using condoms and having only one sex partner.
  • You avoid possible side effects of the vaccine.
  • You don't have to take time to get the shots.
  • You may be more likely to get HPV.
  • If you get HPV, you could spread it to a partner or partners.
  • If you get HPV, you will have a greater chance of getting genital warts. And if you are a woman, you will have less protection from cervical cancer.

Personal stories

Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.

Personal stories about considering getting the HPV vaccine

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

Getting some shots doesn't seem like that big of a deal if it will keep me from getting genital warts. So I'm going to get the HPV shots.

Greg, age 20

I'm not going to get the shots, because I don't plan on having sex until I'm in a long-term relationship. I don't think I'm at much risk of getting HPV.

Jennifer, age 18.

I want to do everything I can to prevent cervical cancer, so I want to get the vaccinations.

Tracy, age 23

My partner and I were both virgins when we started dating. I don't think I need to get the shots. If our relationship changes, I might change my mind.

Carey, age 21

What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to have the HPV vaccine

Reasons not to have the HPV vaccine

I want to do everything I can to prevent cervical cancer for myself and genital warts for my partner or me.

I'm in a long-term relationship. I don't feel I need the vaccine.

More important
Equally important
More important

I feel that the vaccine is safe.

I'm concerned about side effects.

More important
Equally important
More important

I don't want to take the chance of getting a lifelong infection.

I feel that my chance of getting HPV is low, and I'll manage it if I ever get it.

More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

More important
Equally important
More important

Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Getting the HPV vaccine

NOT getting the HPV vaccine

Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1.

The HPV vaccine will protect me from all types of HPV.

  • TrueThat's not right. The vaccines Cervarix and Gardasil protect against the two most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. Gardasil also protects against the two most common types of HPV that cause genital warts.
  • FalseThat's right. The vaccines Cervarix and Gardasil protect against the two most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. Gardasil also protects against the two most common types of HPV that cause genital warts.
  • I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." The vaccines Cervarix and Gardasil protect against the two most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. Gardasil also protects against the two most common types of HPV that cause genital warts.
2.

The HPV vaccine can prevent infection even if I'm already sexually active.

  • TrueThat's right. The best time to get the vaccine is before you become sexually active. But it can prevent infection with HPV if you are already sexually active and don't have HPV.
  • FalseThat's not right. The vaccine can prevent infection with HPV if you are already sexually active and don't have HPV.
  • I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." The vaccine can prevent infection with HPV if you are already sexually active and don't have HPV.
3.

I need to get three shots of the HPV vaccine.

  • TrueThat's right. The HPV vaccine is a series of three shots given over 6 months. For it to work best, you need to get all three shots.
  • FalseSorry, that's not right. The HPV vaccine is a series of three shots given over 6 months. For it to work best, you need to get all three shots.
  • I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." The HPV vaccine is a series of three shots given over 6 months. For it to work best, you need to get all three shots.

Decide what's next

1.

Do you understand the options available to you?

2.

Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3.

Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1.

How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure
3.

Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.

Your Summary

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.

Your decision 

Next steps

Which way you're leaning

How sure you are

Your comments

Your knowledge of the facts 

Key concepts that you understood

Key concepts that may need review

Getting ready to act 

Patient choices

Credits and References

Credits
Credits Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology

References
Citations
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). Human papillomavirus (HPV) Infection section of Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2010. MMWR, 59(RR12): 1–116. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5912a1.htm?s_cid=rr5912a1_w.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011). HPV Vaccine Information For Young Women - Fact Sheet. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Vital Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention (9/15/11). Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/STDFact-HPV-vaccine-young-women.htm.
  3. Gillison ML, et al. (2012). Prevalence of oral HPV infection in the United States, 2009–2010. JAMA, 307(7): 693–703.
You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

HPV: Should I Get the Vaccine?

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.
  1. Get the facts
  2. Compare your options
  3. What matters most to you?
  4. Where are you leaning now?
  5. What else do you need to make your decision?

1. Get the Facts

Your options

  • Get the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine.
  • Don't get the HPV vaccine.

Key points to remember

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the vaccine for those 13 to 26 years old who didn't get the vaccine when they were younger.
  • The HPV vaccines Cervarix and Gardasil protect against the most common types of HPV (human papillomavirus) that cause cervical cancer or genital warts. But they don't protect against all types of HPV that can cause these conditions.
  • The vaccine is given in a series of three shots over 6 months. For it to work best, you need to get all three shots.
  • The best time to get the vaccine is before you become sexually active. But it also protects against HPV after you're sexually active (if you haven't already been infected). When the vaccine is given before you're sexually active, it can prevent almost all infection by the types of HPV the vaccine guards against.
  • The HPV vaccines were tested in thousands of people before being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and there were no serious side effects. You can't get HPV from the vaccine.
FAQs

How do you get HPV?

HPV stands for human papillomavirus. You can get HPV by having sex or skin-to-skin genital contact with someone who has the virus. Infection with HPV is common, especially among young people. Half of all sexually active people in the United States will get HPV.1 But most people never know they have the virus, because it may not cause any symptoms.

There are more than 100 types of human papillomavirus. But only some types of HPV lead to cervical cancer or genital warts.

  • Cervical cancer happens when HPV causes abnormal cells in the cervix to grow out of control. HPV can stay in your body for a long time. It can take 10 years or more for a woman to get cancer from an HPV infection. Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in women.
  • Genital warts (skin growths) may or may not cause symptoms. Even if you treat visible warts, or if the warts go away without treatment, the HPV infection can stay in the body's cells. It's possible to spread genital warts to a sex partner even if you can't see the warts.

What is the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccines can help protect people from being infected with some of the most common types of the virus. The HPV vaccines Cervarix and Gardasil protect girls and young women against the two most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. Gardasil also protects against the two most common types of HPV that cause genital warts.

Females may use either Cervarix or Gardasil. Males may use Gardasil.

The HPV vaccine is a series of three shots given over 6 months. For the vaccine to work best, you need to get all three shots.

The vaccine doesn't treat an HPV infection. But it may protect a person against types of the HPV virus other than the one causing the infection.

Health insurance may cover all or part of the cost of the vaccine. But if you don't have health insurance, check with your local health department, clinic, or hospital about getting low-cost vaccine.

When should you get the HPV vaccine?

For girls and women who have not already had the vaccine, it is recommended up to age 26. For boys and men who have not already had the shots, the vaccine is recommended up to age 21. It is also recommended for men through age 26 who have sex with men or who have a weakened immune system. This may happen because of certain medicines or a condition such as HIV infection.

The best time to get the vaccine is before you become sexually active. But it also protects against HPV after you're sexually active (if you haven't already been infected). When the vaccine is given before you become sexually active, it can prevent almost all infection by the types of HPV the vaccine guards against.2

What are the benefits of the HPV vaccine?

The vaccine can reduce your risk of getting genital warts or cervical cancer caused by some of the most common types of HPV infection. The HPV vaccine also helps protect against cancers of the anus, vagina, and vulva. Research is under way to see if the vaccine also can be used to prevent oral cancers.3

The HPV vaccines were tested in thousands of people before being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and there were no serious side effects. You can't get HPV from the vaccine, and it doesn't contain mercury.

How long does the HPV vaccine last?

The vaccine series helps protect against certain types of HPV for at least 5 years. Studies are under way to see how long the vaccine will last and if a booster shot is needed. A booster shot is another dose of the vaccine that is given after the first series of shots.

What are the risks of the HPV vaccine?

Some people may have mild side effects such as a low-grade fever and soreness in the arm where the shot was given. But neither lasts long. Your doctor may have you stay in the office for up to 15 minutes after the shot is given, to watch for any reactions.

Will you need Pap tests after getting the HPV vaccine?

Even though the HPV vaccine protects against most cervical cancers, women will need to get regular Pap tests to check for cervical cancer. This is because there are some types of HPV that the vaccine doesn't prevent. Pap tests look for cells that may be, or can lead to, cervical cancer. If these cells are found early and treated, you may prevent cervical cancer. Experts recommend that women start having Pap tests at age 21.

2. Compare your options

  Get the HPV vaccine Don't get the HPV vaccine
What is usually involved?
  • You get three shots over 6 months.
  • You may decide to wait until more information is available about how well the vaccine works.
  • You can talk to your doctor about other ways to reduce your chance of infection, such as using condoms and having only one sex partner.
What are the benefits?
  • The vaccine can reduce your risk of getting genital warts.
  • It helps protect women from getting cervical cancer.
  • It helps protect your partner or partners from genital warts and anal and vaginal cancers.
  • You avoid possible side effects of the vaccine.
  • You don't have to take time to get the shots.
What are the risks and side effects?
  • Possible side effects include a low fever and soreness where the shot was given.
  • You may be more likely to get HPV.
  • If you get HPV, you could spread it to a partner or partners.
  • If you get HPV, you will have a greater chance of getting genital warts. And if you are a woman, you will have less protection from cervical cancer.

Personal stories

Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.

Personal stories about considering getting the HPV vaccine

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

"Getting some shots doesn't seem like that big of a deal if it will keep me from getting genital warts. So I'm going to get the HPV shots."

— Greg, age 20

"I'm not going to get the shots, because I don't plan on having sex until I'm in a long-term relationship. I don't think I'm at much risk of getting HPV."

— Jennifer, age 18.

"I want to do everything I can to prevent cervical cancer, so I want to get the vaccinations."

— Tracy, age 23

"My partner and I were both virgins when we started dating. I don't think I need to get the shots. If our relationship changes, I might change my mind."

— Carey, age 21

3. What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to have the HPV vaccine

Reasons not to have the HPV vaccine

I want to do everything I can to prevent cervical cancer for myself and genital warts for my partner or me.

I'm in a long-term relationship. I don't feel I need the vaccine.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I feel that the vaccine is safe.

I'm concerned about side effects.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I don't want to take the chance of getting a lifelong infection.

I feel that my chance of getting HPV is low, and I'll manage it if I ever get it.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

   
             
More important
Equally important
More important

4. Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Getting the HPV vaccine

NOT getting the HPV vaccine

             
Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

5. What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1. The HPV vaccine will protect me from all types of HPV.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure
That's right. The vaccines Cervarix and Gardasil protect against the two most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. Gardasil also protects against the two most common types of HPV that cause genital warts.

2. The HPV vaccine can prevent infection even if I'm already sexually active.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure
That's right. The best time to get the vaccine is before you become sexually active. But it can prevent infection with HPV if you are already sexually active and don't have HPV.

3. I need to get three shots of the HPV vaccine.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure
That's right. The HPV vaccine is a series of three shots given over 6 months. For it to work best, you need to get all three shots.

Decide what's next

1. Do you understand the options available to you?

2. Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3. Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

         
Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure

2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.

  • I'm ready to take action.
  • I want to discuss the options with others.
  • I want to learn more about my options.

3. Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.

 
Credits
By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology

References
Citations
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). Human papillomavirus (HPV) Infection section of Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2010. MMWR, 59(RR12): 1–116. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5912a1.htm?s_cid=rr5912a1_w.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011). HPV Vaccine Information For Young Women - Fact Sheet. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Vital Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention (9/15/11). Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/STDFact-HPV-vaccine-young-women.htm.
  3. Gillison ML, et al. (2012). Prevalence of oral HPV infection in the United States, 2009–2010. JAMA, 307(7): 693–703.

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