Immunizations: Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine and HPV-Related Cancers
Each year, thousands of people living in Wisconsin are diagnosed with cancers related to HPV.
There are more than 150 types of HPV.
Almost everyone will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their life. But the disease can be prevented with a vaccine and screening tests.
A vaccine can prevent HPV and HPV-related cancers
The HPV vaccine is the best way to be protected. The vaccine is safe and effective. The HPV vaccine can prevent:
- Cervical cancer.
- Head and neck cancers.
- Other types of cancers related to HPV.
Infection with HPV can lead to these types of cancers later in life.
Do you want to protect your loved ones from getting the HPV infection? Do you want to prevent them from getting cancer related to HPV in the future? Then talk about it!
If you’re the parent of a pre-teen, talk to your child’s doctor about getting the HPV vaccine. If you’re not a parent, you still can help! If there’s a pre-teen you care about, encourage them to get the vaccine to prevent HPV cancers.
HPV is a highly contagious infection. It’s common in the United States. Millions of Americans, including teens, become infected each year. Nearly everyone will get HPV at some point in their lives.
HPV is spread through intimate skin‐to-skin contact. You can get HPV by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus, even if they don’t have any signs or symptoms. HPV also can spread through other skin-to-skin contact with an area of the body infected with HPV.
Because HPV is so common, you can be exposed to it easily without knowing.
When an HPV infection lasts for many years, it can cause certain cancers.
HPV is a common virus that can lead to certain types of cancer later in life. Most people with HPV have no symptoms, so they usually don’t even know they’re infected.
Some types of HPV infections cause warts. Other types can cause cancers of the:
- Cervix, vagina, and vulva in women.
- Penis in men.
- Anus in both women and men.
- Back of the throat (called oropharyngeal cancer), including the base of the tongue and tonsils, in both men and women.
It usually takes years after being infected with HPV for cancer to develop.
There is no treatment for the virus itself. However, there may be treatments for the health problems caused by HPV.
- Genital warts can be treated by your health care provider or with prescription medication.
- Cervical precancer can be treated. Getting regular Pap tests is the best way to identify problems before cervical cancer develops.
- Other HPV cancer treatments can include surgery, radiation, and/or chemotherapy.
Most HPV infections go away by themselves within two years.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends the HPV vaccine:
- For children ages 11–12 years. Children can get their first dose when they are 9 years old.
- Everyone through age 26 years, if not already vaccinated.
Some adults ages 27–45 years who aren’t already vaccinated might choose to get the HPV vaccine. Talk to a doctor about the risk of new HPV infections and possible benefits of vaccination. HPV vaccination of adults provides less benefit, because more people in this age range have already been exposed to HPV.
Early protection works best. That’s why HPV vaccine is recommended earlier rather than later. It protects your child long before they ever have contact with the virus.
For full protection, most 11- and 12-year-olds need two doses of the vaccine, at least six months apart. If your teen got the first dose at 15 years or older, they need three doses to get full protection.
Find out if your children are protected against HPV and its related cancers. Check our Department of Health Services (DHS) Wisconsin Immunization Registry. If your teen isn’t vaccinated yet, talk to their doctor about getting the vaccine as soon as possible.
If you’re worried about cost, your family may be eligible for free vaccines. Read about our Vaccines For Children and Vaccines For Adults programs.
Regular cervical cancer screening
Cervical cancer also can be prevented or found early through regular screening and follow-up treatment. Learn about cervical cancer screening test options.
- The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for precancers (cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they aren’t treated properly).
- The HPV test looks for the virus that can cause these cell changes.
If you’re worried about cost, Wisconsin Well Woman Program helps women who have little or no health insurance get screening for breast and cervical cancers.
If your doctor finds any abnormal results from a cervical cancer screening test, be sure to follow up. You may need treatment or further tests.
Currently, screening tests for other types of cancers associated with HPV aren’t recommended.
Condoms and dental dams
Using condoms and dental dams correctly and consistently can lower the chance that HPV is passed from one person to another.
Alcohol and tobacco
We don’t know yet if having HPV alone is enough to cause cancer in the back of the throat. This is called oropharyngeal cancer. Alcohol and tobacco products may contribute to oropharyngeal cancers. Don’t smoke or use smokeless tobacco products, and avoid smoke from other people’s cigarettes. Free help is available through our Tobacco Prevention and Control Program: Help to Quit.
Limit the amount of alcohol you drink. Learn more about Understanding Binge Drinking.
The HPV vaccine is very safe. Millions of people have safely gotten their HPV vaccine. Over 15 years of monitoring have shown that HPV vaccines are very safe and effective.
All vaccines, especially HPV, are carefully studied before they are available to the public. The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration continue to monitor vaccines after they are approved. To understand how vaccines are developed, read the Journey of Your Child’s Vaccine.
As with any vaccine, there may be minor side effects that include:
- Low fever.
- Pain and redness in the arm where the vaccine was given.
These are normal and are caused by our immune systems. These reactions are our bodies’ way of jumping into action and building protection. For example, fevers are a common tool our immune systems use to fight back against viruses. A lot of viruses and bacteria can’t survive at high temperatures. After vaccination, our bodies practice how to fight the real virus.
HPV vaccination gives long-lasting protection against cancer-causing infections and precancers.
Read more to understand the HPV Vaccination is Safe and Effective.
- DHS disease fact sheet—HPV (available in English, Spanish and Hmong)
- CDC general information—HPV
- CDC—Vaccine for Human Papillomavirus
- American Cancer Society—HPV Vaccines
- DHS—Vaccines Recommended at Ages 11–12: What Parents Should Know, P-90022
- Wisconsin Cancer Council infographic—Protecting Wisconsin Youth from HPV-related Cancers (PDF)
- CDC vaccine information statement—HPV
Just for health care providers and local health departments
- CDC recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)—Human Papillomavirus (HPV) ACIP Vaccine Recommendations
- Wisconsin State Library of Hygiene—Clinical Testing Reference Manual
We offer links to a wealth of resources to help you make a strong recommendation for the HPV vaccine.
- CDC—Human Papillomavirus
- CDC Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases pink book—Human Papillomavirus (PDF)
- American Academy of Pediatrics—HPV Vaccine Recommendations
- American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists—HPV overview
- National Foundation for Infectious Diseases—Adolescent Vaccination
- Immunize.org—Immunizations: HPV
- Vanderbilt Health—HPV, Throat Cancer and Viruses
- Emory University—Addressing HPV Vaccine Hesitancy and Myths by Dr. Robert Bednarczyk
- Mayo Clinic Health System recorded session—HPV: What is it and do you need the vaccine? by Dr. Costa Sousou
- Mayo Clinic Health System recorded session—The C.A.S.E Approach to HPV Vaccine Hesitancy by Dr. Robert Jacobson