Human papillomavirus HPV is a virus that can cause genital warts, anal cancer, and cervical cancer. It is considered a sexually transmitted disease (STD). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that girls and boys aged 11-12 years old be vaccinated against HPV. Boys can be vaccinated with either Gardasil or Gardasil 9 to protect them against HPV-caused anal cancer, precancerous anal lesions, and genital warts. Girls can be vaccinated with either Gardasil, Gardasil 9, or a different vaccine called Cervarix. Gardasil and Gardasil 9 protects girls against HPV-caused cervical, vulvar, vaginal, and anal cancers and precancerous lesions as well as genital warts. Cevarix protects girls against cervical cancer caused by HPV. This article focuses on Gardasil and Gardasil 9.
Gardasil is the first vaccine designed to prevent both genital warts and cervical cancer caused by HPV. The vaccine is a product of genetic engineering and is considered safe. Gardasil does not contain HPV. Rather, it uses a harmless viral protein to stimulate the immune system and create resistance against the virus. It is, therefore, not possible to become infected with HPV from the vaccine.
Gardasil is recommended for girls and boys as a 3-dose series between 11-12 years old. For the vaccine to be most effective, adolescents should complete the series before their first sexual contact in order to have time for an immune response to develop. The vaccine may be given starting at 9 years old.
If you did not receive the vaccine when you were younger, recommendations for the HPV vaccine series include:
Although it is not specifically recommended, men aged 22-26 years old can also get the vaccine.
Gardasil is not a treatment, but a prevention measure. The vaccine will not help those who already have HPV. However, most people do not contract all 40 types of HPV at the same time, so the immunization would still be recommended as a preventive measure against the HPV types that a woman or man does not have.
Also, Gardasil does not prevent infection with the other HPV types that are not contained in the vaccine. Therefore, the vaccine does not replace the need for routine Pap smears to screen for cervical dysplasia (a precancerous condition) and cancer in women. Women and girls severely allergic to yeast should not be immunized with Gardasil. Also, the product is not recommended for pregnant women.
The HPV lives on the skin or mucous membranes of infected people. There are often no symptoms of HPV and many cases go away on their own. Although the body’s immune system is often effective in getting rid of many types of HPV, other types of HPV can cause genital warts and, more seriously, cervical cancer. Fortunately, the vast majority of HPV infections do not lead to cervical cancer.
The transmission rate of HPV is high because most people who are infected do not know that they have HPV and, therefore, do not take necessary precautions. Even more importantly, HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact and not via blood or bodily fluids, like most other STDs. Anyone who has ever been sexually active has the risk of getting and passing on HPV. Because there are no symptoms, a person can have HPV for years and not know they are transmitting it. Condoms are not entirely effective in preventing HPV infection because areas that are not covered may be infected. However, using latex condoms has been associated with a lower rate of HPV infection in women.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Cancer Institute
Sex Information and Education Council of Canada
Women's Health Matters
Birth-18 years & catch-up immunizations schedules, United States 2013. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/hcp/child-adolescent.html. Updated May 26, 2015. Accessed July 9, 2015.
HPV (human papillomavirus) Cervarix® VIS. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/hpv-cervarix.html. Updated May 3, 2011. Accessed July 9, 2015.
HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine Gardasil® VIS. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/hpv-gardasil.html. Updated May 17, 2013. Updated July 9, 2015.
Human papillomavirus (HPV). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/hpv/index.html. Updated June 23, 2015. Accessed July 9, 2015.
Human papillomavirus vaccine. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated June 3, 2015. Accessed July 9, 2015.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/infectious-agents/hpv-vaccine-fact-sheet. Updated February 19, 2015. Accessed July 16, 2015.
Workowski KA, Berman S, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2010. MMWR. 2010;59(No. RR-12):1-110.
Last reviewed July 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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