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Understanding the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine

HPV, or human papillomavirus (say: PAP-uh-LOH-muh veye-ruhs), is often passed through sexual contact. Some types of HPV cause genital warts, cervical cancer, and other cancers. A safe and effective vaccine can help protect you against a few types of HPV.

Here are some key points about the HPV vaccine:

  • The HPV vaccine works best if you get it before you are ever exposed to the virus. That’s why it’s important to get the vaccine before you ever have sex. Experts recommend that you get it at age 11 or 12. You can even get the vaccine as young as 9.
  • If you missed getting the vaccine when you were 11 or 12, you can still get it.
  • The vaccine is given as a series of three shots over the course of several months. You need all three shots.
  • The vaccine was tested on tens of thousands of people. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it is safe.
  • The vaccine won’t protect you against all types of HPV. It also won’t protect against other sexually transmitted diseases or STDs (also called sexually transmitted infections or STIs). So even if you get the vaccine, use a latex condom every time you have sex to help stay safe.
  • The vaccine comes under two brand names. Cervarix helps protect against cervical cancer. Gardasil helps protect against cervical cancer and some types of genital warts. Ask your health care professional which one is right for you. Boys should get Gardasil to help prevent genital warts and HPV-related cancers (and to help prevent spreading HPV to girls).

 

Content last reviewed April 15, 2014
Page last updated May 30, 2014

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.

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