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HPV Vaccine for Childhood Cancer Survivors

What is HPV?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that can cause 6 types of cancer. HPV vaccination can prevent more than 90% of cancers caused by HPV.

Cancer prevention is particularly important for childhood cancer survivors. Several studies have shown that as childhood cancer survivors become older, they have a slightly higher risk of developing a second cancer compared to people their same age in the general population.

HPV will affect 80 percent of people in their lifetime. Nearly all sexually active men and women get HPV at some point in their lives. HPV infects about 14 million people each year in the U.S. The second most common sexually transmitted infection is chlamydia with about 3 million new cases annually.

About 90 percent of HPV infections go away within a year or two, occur without any symptoms, and do not cause cancer. A strong immune response will help to clear most HPV infections.

However, some immune systems are not able to fight HPV. If the infection persists for many years, it can lead to cancer.

HPV can cause 6 types of cancer:

  • Anal
  • Cervical
  • Oropharyngeal (mouth and throat)
  • Penile
  • Vaginal
  • Vulvar

HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer in women. After tobacco and alcohol, HPV causes more cases of oropharyngeal (throat) cancer in men.

Masked doctor puts on Band-Aid for a female child.

Related Blog Post

HPV Vaccine: Closing the Gaps

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many children missed their regular checkups. That means they may not have had the vaccination against human papillomavirus, called HPV. 

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The HPV vaccine is safe, effective against six types of cancer, and long-lasting

Childhood cancer survivors should get the HPV vaccine. The best time to vaccinate against HPV is ages 9–12.

What is the HPV vaccine?

A vaccine helps your immune system fight certain infections. The HPV vaccine causes the immune system to produce antibodies that protect the body from HPV infection.

The American Cancer Society recommends that boys and girls between the ages of 9–12 get the HPV vaccination, including childhood cancer survivors.

The HPV vaccine is most effective when given before exposure to HPV, which is spread through intimate sexual contact. The best time to vaccinate against HPV is ages 9–12. The immune response is best at these ages. Almost all children will not have been exposed to HPV. Children have the strongest immune response before age 16.

Children should get the HPV vaccine even if it is not required for school attendance. HPV vaccination at ages 9–12 ensures you will have the best protection against HPV cancers. HPV vaccination is safe, it works, and it lasts.

If someone was not vaccinated between ages 9–12, vaccination is approved through age 26 for everyone and for some people who are 27–45 years old.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 2 doses of the HPV vaccine for children and teens ages 9–14. For those who start the HPV vaccine series after their 15th birthday, 3 doses are recommended.

For childhood cancer survivors or for people who are immunocompromised, the Children's Oncology Group (COG) recommends 3 doses of HPV vaccine regardless of age.  

How does HPV spread?

More than 200 types of HPV exist. Of those, 40 types are easily spread through sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, or oral sex or finger-to-genital contact. Direct sexual contact of the skin and mucous membrane causes the virus to transfer from an infected person to a partner.

An infected person can still pass HPV to other people even if the infected person’s immune system eventually clears the infection. The other person’s immune system may not be able to. People who do not have symptoms of HPV can spread HPV to another person and symptoms may develop in that person.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 80% of sexually active women and more than 90% of sexually active men will become infected with HPV — half with a high-risk or cancer-causing type of HPV. About half of the population (both males and females) are currently infected with HPV (42.5% of females aged 14–59, 53.8% females aged 20–24, 52–69% of males aged 18–70).

How to prevent HPV

To prevent HPV, childhood and adolescent cancer survivors should:

  • Get vaccinated: The HPV vaccine is safe, effective, and durable.
  • Use condoms the right way during sexual intercourse: This will lower risk of getting HPV but not all areas are covered by a condom.
  • Be in a mutually monogamous relationship – or have sex only with someone who only has sex with you.
  • Participate in routine Pap tests to screen for cervical cancerWomen between the ages of 21 and 29 should be tested every 3 years. Women ages 30 through 65 can be tested every 5 years with the combined Pap and HPV, or every 3 years with the Pap test alone.

HPV vaccine myths and facts

Because HPV is associated with sexual activity, there are a number of myths about the infection, how it is spread, and the effects of the vaccine itself.

How to get the HPV vaccine

Ask your child’s primary care provider about getting the vaccine or contact the local health department.

The vaccine is covered by most private insurance plans.

The Vaccines for Children (VFC) program provides vaccines for children ages 18 years and younger, who are uninsured, Medicaid-eligible, American Indian, or Alaska Native. There is no charge for vaccines given by a VFC provider to eligible children.

Any child who is younger than 19 years of age and meets one of the following requirements is eligible for the program:

  • Medicaid-eligible
  • Uninsured
  • American Indian or Alaska Native
  • Underinsured (Means your child has health insurance, but it doesn’t cover the vaccine. There are more than 40,000 health care providers enrolled in the VFC program.)

Additional information

Reviewed: February 2024