What is the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine?

Kari R. Harris, MD
The HPV vaccine is a vaccine that protects against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause multiple types of cancer. The HPV virus is actually very common -- the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that pretty much everyone who has sex will be exposed to it at some point in their life. While it’s best known to cause cervical and oropharyngeal cancers, HPV has also been linked to penis cancers and vaginal cancers. Obviously, to have a vaccine that protects against so many types of cancer is huge. The vaccine is most effective when it’s given at a younger age between age 11 or 13, and ideally long before the child is sexually active.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine -- the first vaccine designed to prevent a type of cancer -- has been increasingly embraced by parents and the medical community since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it in 2006.

The most widely used HPV vaccine, Gardasil, protects against the two strains that cause the majority of cervical cancers, as well as the two HPV subtypes responsible for roughly 90 percent of genital warts cases. In addition to being offered to preteen girls, it is recommended for older girls and young women up to the age of 26 who have not yet received it.
Anthony L. Komaroff, MD
Internal Medicine
The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in June 2006, It is recommended that all 11 or 12 year old girls get the 3 doses (shots) of the HPV vaccine to protect against cervical cancer. Girls and young women ages 13 through 26 should get HPV vaccine if they have not received any or all doses when they were younger.

One version of the HPV vaccine called Gardasil is also licensed, safe, and effective for males ages 9 through 26 years. CDC recommends Gardasil for all boys aged 11 or 12 years, and for males aged 13 through 21 years, who did not get any or all of the three recommended doses when they were younger. All men may receive the vaccine through age 26, and should speak with their doctor to find out if getting vaccinated is right for them.

The vaccine is also recommended for gay and bisexual men (or any man who has sex with men) and men with compromised immune systems (including HIV) through age 26, if they did not get fully vaccinated when they were younger.

This vaccine offers protection against the four most common HPV strains that are responsible for 70% of cervical cancers and 90% of genital warts. However, no vaccine is 100% protective, so females should continue to have regular Pap smears to screen for cervical cancer.