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HPV Vaccine for Adults

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the virus that causes cervical cancer in women and genital warts in men and women. The HPV vaccine effectively prevents infection with the two HPV types responsible for most cervical cancers and can also prevent genital warts. HPV vaccination is most effective during childhood or adolescence, but adults can also benefit from the HPV vaccine.

Why Adults Should Get the HPV Vaccine

HPV infection is extremely common; most sexually active people will be infected with HPV at some point in life. HPV infection usually causes no symptoms, but can cause genital warts and anal cancer in both women and men.

In women, HPV infection can cause cells in the cervix to grow abnormally. In a small fraction of women, these HPV-induced changes will develop into cervical cancer. About 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year and about 4,000 women die from the condition.

The HPV vaccine prevents infection by the HPV types responsible for most cervical cancers. There are two available forms of the HPV vaccine:

  • Cervarix: Prevents infection by HPV-16 and HPV-18. These two HPV types cause 70% of all cervical cancers. It is used for the prevention of cervical cancer and precancers.
  • Gardasil: Prevents infection by HPV-16, HPV-18, and also HPV-6 and HPV-11, the two HPV types that cause 90% of genital warts. It is used to prevent cancers and precancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, and anus.

Both HPV vaccines are extremely effective at preventing infection by the HPV types they cover. Getting the HPV vaccine reduces a woman’s risk of cervical cancer and precancerous growths substantially. Men cannot develop cervical cancer, but the HPV vaccine may prevent genital warts, anal cancer, and the spread of HPV to sexual partners. Only Gardasil is approved for use in men and boys 9 through 26 years of age.

The HPV vaccine does not treat or cure an HPV infection in women or men who are already infected by one of these HPV types.

When Should Adults Get the HPV Vaccine?

The CDC recommends that all women age 26 years and younger receive three doses of the HPV vaccine (Cervarix or Gardasil). The CDC recommends that all men age 21 years and younger receive three doses of the HPV vaccine (Gardasil only). It is an option for all men, but is recommended for men who have sex with men or who have a compromised immune system (including HIV) to receive the HPV vaccine through age 26 if not received earlier.

CDC guidelines recommend the three doses of the HPV vaccine should be given as follows:

  • First dose: between ages 11 and 26
  • Second dose: one to two months after the first dose
  • Third dose: six months after the first dose

Some adults may have received doses of the HPV vaccine in childhood or adolescence. All three doses should be given to get the most protection from HPV infection. Re-vaccination in adulthood is recommended if the vaccination schedule was not completed.

WebMD Medical Reference

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