How do you get HPV?
HPV stands for human
papillomavirus. It is spread by having sex 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 women never know they have the virus, because it
usually goes away on its own and 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, which then 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. While cervical cancer in the United States is not
as common as it used to be, about 10,000 women get it each year and 3,700 die
from the disease.2
- Genital warts 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 is
possible to spread genital warts to a sex partner even if there are no signs of
What is the HPV vaccine?
The HPV vaccine is a
series of three shots that can protect your daughter from being infected with
some of the most common types of the virus.3, 4 The vaccine guards against four types of HPV: two that cause
70 out of 100 cases of cervical cancer and two that cause 90 out of 100 cases
of genital warts.
The vaccine protects against the four 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 after 5 years.1 A booster shot is another dose of the vaccine given after the
first series of shots.
For the vaccine to work, it is very
important that your daughter receive all three shots. The second shot is given
2 months after the first shot. The last shot is given 4 months after the second
The vaccine is not useful for treating an HPV
infection.5 But if your daughter already has one type
of the virus when she gets the vaccine, the vaccine can protect against the
three other types of HPV that cause most cases of cervical cancer or genital
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 to see if you can get the vaccine for a low
cost or even for free.
Studies are under way to see if the vaccine
helps prevent HPV in men.1
When should your daughter get the vaccine?
U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends the vaccine
for girls 11 to 12 years old and the vaccine is approved for girls starting at
age 9. It is also recommended for females ages 13 to 26 who did not receive it
when they were younger. The best time for your daughter to get the vaccine is
before she becomes sexually active. This is because the vaccine works best
before there is any chance of infection with HPV. In this case, the vaccine can
prevent almost all infection by the four types of HPV the vaccine guards
How do you talk to your daughter about the HPV vaccine?
Some parents may worry about talking to their young
daughters about the HPV vaccine because they think it means they have to have
the "sex talk." But you don't have to talk to your daughter about sex if you
are not ready. Your daughter may have other vaccines between ages 10 and 12,
such as a meningitis shot or a tetanus booster shot. You may want to start the
HPV vaccine series when she receives these other shots. You can tell your
daughter that these vaccines can help keep her healthy and prevent cancer later
in her life.
If you do decide to talk to your daughter about HPV
and the vaccine, it doesn't mean you are giving your child permission to have
sex. It is a chance to teach your daughter about
safe sex and
sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). This information
will be very important for her when she is older and making her own choices
Is the HPV vaccine safe, and how long does it last?
The vaccine is safe. It was tested on 11,000 women before it was approved
by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).6 You
can't get HPV from the vaccine, and it doesn't contain mercury. There are no
serious side effects from the 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.
Does your daughter need to be tested for cervical cancer after getting the HPV vaccine?
Even though the HPV vaccine protects
against most cervical cancers, your daughter still needs to get regular
Pap tests to check for cervical cancer, starting
within 3 years after she becomes sexually active. 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.
If your daughter
gets the vaccine before she is sexually active, she does not need to be tested
for cervical cancer before she gets the HPV vaccine.
If you need more information, see the topic