Living with cancer blog

HPV vaccine can help prevent cervical cancer

By Sheryl M. Ness, R.N. August 21, 2012

You've probably heard about a cervical cancer prevention vaccine, also called the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. The vaccine protects against the virus that causes almost all cervical cancers. Cervical cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in women. If you're a parent with daughters or young woman considering the vaccine, here are a few facts about HPV and the vaccine:

  • HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus.
  • The HPV vaccine protects against 70 percent of the virus types that cause cervical cancer.
  • Most women will get HPV at some point during their lives — by age 50 around 80 percent of women have had the virus.
  • HPV usually causes little or no symptoms.
  • HPV can also cause warts, genital warts, and other cancers — such as the vagina, anus, and cancers of the head and neck.
  • The HPV vaccine is recommended for girls at around age 11 or 12, and is also recommended for young women aged 13-26.
  • It's important to still see your healthcare provider for regular pelvic exams and pap tests even if you have received the vaccine.

The concept behind this vaccine is to deliver protection from the virus before young women become sexually active. The vaccine is given through an injection in the arm or thigh as a series of three injections over a period of around six months. The best protection against HPV is provided after all three shots are given.

The HPV vaccine is generally covered by health insurance plans. Coverage for those without insurance can also be obtained through the federal Vaccines for Children program. The HPV vaccine is also recommended for boys and young men age 11-26 to prevent genital warts and infection with the virus.

As with all newer vaccines, there are a few unknowns. The FDA and other agencies are closely monitoring reported side effects for any problems. However, to date, only minor (expected) side effects have been reported — most common are pain at the injection site, fever, dizziness and fainting. Also unknown is how long the vaccine protection lasts. This is being studied and reported on an ongoing basis.

For more about vaccines and cancer, check out or the NCI website (

How do you feel about the HPV vaccine? Share your opinions on this topic.


Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.

Aug. 21, 2012