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Put "HPV Cancer Prevention" on Your Back-to-School Checklist

Group of preteensHPV vaccine can prevent certain cancers and other diseases caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). Get your girls and your boys vaccinated at 11 or 12, or as soon as possible if they're already 13 or older.

What is HPV?

HPV is short for human papillomavirus. HPV is very common—about 79 million people in the United States are currently infected with HPV. Initial infection with HPV often occurs in the teens or early 20s. Almost all sexually active people get HPV at some point in their life, but most never know they have been infected. Many HPV infections go away, but sometimes HPV can cause genital warts or cancer.

Each year in the United States, about 17,600 women get cancer that is linked with HPV, and cervical cancer is the most common. Around 9,300 men get an HPV-associated cancer, and the most common are cancers of the back of throat, tongue, and tonsils. HPV can also cause cancers of the vulva and vagina in women, cancer of the penis in men, and cancer of the anus in women and men. The HPV vaccine is important because the HPV infections that cause most of these cancers could be prevented with vaccination.

A Mother's Story

Jacquelyn, a mother of two and cervical cancer survivor, shares her story. After her son was born, she found out she had cancer and needed a total hysterectomy.

"Every time the doctor calls, I hold my breath until I get the results. Cancer is always in the back of my mind," Jacquelyn says. "I will protect my son and daughter by getting both of them the HPV vaccine series as soon as they turn 11. I tell everyone I know to get their children the HPV vaccine series to protect them from cancer."

What else should I know about HPV vaccine?

HPV vaccine works very well. A recent study by the CDC showed that the HPV vaccine is very effective and helped to lower HPV infection rates in teen girls by half. Other studies have shown that genital warts (caused by HPV infections) have also decreased in teens since HPV vaccine came out.

HPV vaccines are given in a series of 3 shots over six months at ages 11 or 12. For the best protection against the most dangerous types of HPV, it is very important to get all of the recommended doses long before being exposed to HPV. Also, HPV vaccine produces a higher immune response in preteens than in older teens and young adults.

HPV vaccine has a very good safety record [145 KB]. More than 67 million doses have been distributed in the U.S. In the eight years since the vaccine was recommended, safety studies continue to show that HPV vaccines are safe. Some preteens and teens may feel lightheaded, dizzy or like they may faint when getting any vaccine, including HPV vaccine. After a preteen or teen gets a vaccine, it’s a good idea to hang out for 15 minutes before leaving, just to make sure they don’t get hurt if they do faint.

Who should get HPV vaccine?

Boys and girls should get all three doses of HPV vaccine when they are 11 or 12 years old. If a teen or young adult (through age 26) has not started or finished the series of three HPV vaccine shots, it's not too late! If it has been a long time since your child got the first or second dose of HPV vaccine, you don’t have to start over—just get the remaining shot(s) as soon as possible. Make an appointment today to get your child vaccinated.

Ask about HPV vaccine during any appointment

Two preteen students with backpacks

Take advantage of any visit to the doctor—checkups, sick visits, even physicals for sports or school—to ask the doctor about what shots your preteens and teens need. Even if your doctor doesn’t mention HPV vaccine, be sure to ask the doctor or nurse about getting it for your child at that appointment.

Families who need help paying for vaccines should ask their health care provider about the Vaccines for Children Program. The program provides vaccines at no cost to uninsured children younger than 19 years. For help in finding a local health care provider who participates in the program, parents can call 800-CDC-INFO(800-232-4636) or go to Vaccines and Immunizations.

How can I learn more about HPV and HPV vaccine?

To learn more about HPV vaccine, visit HPV Vaccine for Preteens and Teens.

Get your questions about HPV vaccine answered by checking out HPV Vaccine - Questions & Answers.

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