Four Things Parents Should Know about the HPV Vaccine

By Memorial Sloan Kettering,

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Group of racially diverse boys and girls lying on grass and conversing.

MSK joined other top cancer organizations today in an unprecedented statement calling for increased vaccination against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is known to cause many types of cancer. The HPV vaccine is safe and effective and should be given to both boys and girls at age 11 or 12, before they have been exposed to the virus. It typically is given in a three-shot series over six months.

  • HPV infection increases the risk of many forms of cancer — including cervical cancer and head and neck cancer.
  • A vaccine against HPV has been tested on hundreds of thousands of people and has proven to be very safe and effective.
  • The vaccine is given in a three-shot series over six months. Parents should have their children vaccinated at age 11 or 12.

You can’t protect your kids from all the risks they’ll face as teenagers and young adults — but you can protect them from certain kinds of cancer. Today, MSK joined forces with 68 other leading cancer centers to educate the public about the importance of having children vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV). Read the full statement.

The vaccine doesn’t just prevent HPV infection; it also protects against a growing list of cancers known to develop as a result of HPV infection.

Here’s what you need to know about the HPV vaccine’s safety, administration, and effectiveness.

Is the HPV vaccine safe? Are there side effects?

The United States currently has the safest, most effective vaccine supply in history. All three HPV vaccines have been tested in hundreds of thousands of people without any serious side effects. Your child may have a sore arm from the shot, a fever, or a headache; feel tired or nauseous; or experience muscle or joint pain.

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When should my child get vaccinated?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that both boys and girls receive the vaccine at age 11 or 12 because it’s more effective before they become sexually active and are exposed to HPV. The vaccine can be started in preteens as early as age 9 but should be completed before their 13th birthday. However, it is also recommended for young women until age 26 and young men until age 21 if they haven’t already received it.

It's really important to get all three shots, since we don't yet know how much protection against cancer is provided by getting only one or two shots.
Carol L. Brown
Carol L. Brown gynecologic surgeon
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How is the vaccine given?

It is administered as a series of three shots over six months. The CDC recommends receiving the full series to maximize effectiveness. As MSK surgeon Carol Brown explains, “It’s really important to get all three shots, since we don’t yet know how much protection against cancer is provided by getting only one or two shots.”

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What are the benefits of the vaccine?

Nearly 80 million Americans — about one in four — are currently infected with HPV. Extensive scientific research has shown that HPV causes a number of cancers that can be prevented in people who receive the HPV vaccine as children. Among these are cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers in women; penile cancer in men; and, in both men and women, anal cancer and cancer of the oropharynx (the middle part of the throat, at the rear of the mouth, including the back of the tongue and the tonsils).

There are currently three HPV vaccines: Gardasil, Gardasil 9, and Cervarix. Ask your family’s pediatrician which vaccine is best for your child. 

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