The HPV vaccine: Cancer prevention for girls and boys

HPV vaccine: Get vaccine!

In 2006, the U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved a vaccine that brought health care one step closer to an elusive goal: preventing cancer. It was the HPV vaccine, which protects against HPV infections that can lead to several cancers, including cervical, penile, throat, and others. But there is a lot of information about the HPV vaccine that makes it confusing for parents.

To help you understand the HPV vaccine, Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute has answers to frequently asked questions and suggestions for helpful resources.

What is HPV?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus. About 40 types of HPV are spread through sexual contact.

Most people will be infected with at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives. HPV infection is most common in people in their late teens and twenties. Nearly 80 million Americans are infected with HPV at any given time, with 14 million people becoming newly infected each year.

Many people will never know they have been infected. But some types of HPV can lead to genital warts or several forms of cancer, including:

  • Cervical cancer
  • Penile cancer
  • Anal and throat cancer

Each year in the U.S., HPV is estimated to cause 36,000 cases of cancer in men and women.


What is the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine protects against types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers and genital warts. The vaccine also helps protect against anal, throat, and penile cancer.

Who should get the HPV vaccine and when?

Children should get the HPV vaccine when they are 11–12 years old, according to recommendations from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Why does my child need the HPV vaccine at age 11–12?

The vaccine will not prevent cancer or genital warts in someone who is already infected with HPV. It must be given before exposure to the virus. That’s why it is so important to vaccinate your child well before he or she becomes sexually active.

Is the HPV vaccine effective?

Clinical trials show that the HPV vaccine provides almost 100% protection against the most dangerous types of HPV that can cause cancer and genital warts. Ongoing research also shows the vaccine lasts at least 10 years without losing effectiveness. So, a child vaccinated at age 11 will still be protected from HPV infection as a young adult.

Is the HPV vaccine safe?

Yes, the vaccine is safe. The FDA licensed HPV vaccines as safe and effective in 2006 after years of extensive safety testing. The vaccine has been monitored closely for safety and effectiveness ever since. There have been no serious safety concerns with the vaccine.

Like any medicine, vaccines may cause side effects. Most side effects are mild and go away on their own. 

After any vaccine, it’s possible that someone could faint or feel mild pain from the shot. Severe allergic reactions are also possible, but they are very rare. In fact, serious reactions to a vaccine happen in less than one in a million doses. Most people who get the HPV vaccine do not have any problems with it.

The most common side effects from the HPV vaccine include:

  • Soreness, redness, or swelling in the arm where the shot was given
  • Mild to moderate fever
  • Headache

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Genital HPV Infection - Fact Sheet