The HPV vaccine has been one of the biggest advances in cancer prevention of the past decade.
HPVs – or human papillomaviruses – are a relatively diverse set of viruses, a number of which are sexually transmitted. Some of the sexually transmitted types of HPV can raise the risk of certain cancers as well as genital warts.
HPV infections are quite common, with up to 90 percent of people having one at some point in their lives. The large majority of these infections clear on their own. But some do not.
Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are thought to be due to HPV infection, mostly from two specific types (16 and 18). HPV infection also increases the risk of vaginal and penile cancers, as well as anal and oropharyngeal cancers. Oropharyngeal cancer includes cancer that can affect the tongue, throat, tonsils, and soft palate, and its rate is quickly increasing.
Vaccination against HPV can help protect against many of these cancers (as well as genital warts) and is routinely recommended for both boys and girls ages 11 – 12 years but can begin earlier or later and still be effective. Ideally, vaccination takes place before the start of sexual activity but can have benefits after that time.
A doctor is the best source of information about HPV and HPV vaccination.