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HPV stands for human papillomavirus. This virus has many types. About 40 HPV types can cause infections in the mouth or genitals, including the base of the throat and tonsils, cervix, vagina, vulva, and anus. Some HPV types raise the risk for certain cancers. Other types cause warts on the genitals or no symptoms at all.
HPV is common. Most people get a type of this virus in their lifetime. Your body usually gets rid of the virus on its own. But in some people, HPV does not go away. This is more common among people with weak immune systems.
HPV also can cause a condition called “pre-cancer.” This means you have abnormal cells that can become cancer if they are not treated.
HPV is linked to at least 6 types of cancer:
Doctors only screen for 1 of these types: cervical cancer. Women get this screening through a Pap test or HPV test. Your doctor might not find other cancers until they cause symptoms.
Some types of HPV cause warts on the genitals, anus, mouth, throat, or nearby areas. The warts are small bumps that can be itchy and painful. Doctors can treat the warts but cannot cure the HPV that causes them. The virus stays in the body, and the warts might come back later.
HPV spreads through contact with an infected person’s mouth or genitals. This can happen through oral sex, penile and vaginal sex, anal sex, and more. Most people with HPV do not have symptoms. The infected person might not know that they have the virus or that they can spread it to other people. The virus can live in the body for many years, and you can have more than 1 type at a time.
HPV vaccination prevents infection with the types of HPV that cause cancer and genital warts. It works well if your child gets the shot before being exposed to HPV.
Your child can get the HPV vaccine at age 9 or older. Doctors recommend it at age 11 or 12. Your child needs to be protected before having sexual contact that could spread HPV.
Children ages 9–14 need 2 doses (shots) of the vaccine. Children ages 15 and older need 3 doses.
HPV is a common virus. About 14 million Americans are infected each year, including teens. HPV causes about 37,000 cancers in the U.S. each year. Worldwide, HPV causes almost 5% of all cases of cancer.
The HPV vaccine helps protect your child’s health, now and in the future. This includes lowering the risk of future cancers.
Doctors have given more than 270 million doses of the HPV vaccine. Research shows it is safe and effective against the virus.
If you have questions about the HPV vaccine, please ask your child’s doctor or nurse.
Reviewed: September 2022