HPV (human papillomavirus) is a virus that spreads through sexual contact. It causes cervical cancer and other cancers. The HPV vaccine can protect you from HPV and the cancers it causes. But does the HPV vaccine help if you’re already infected? Yes — while it’s best to get the vaccine before you come in contact with HPV, you can still get the vaccine after you’ve had the virus.
There are over 200 different types of HPV. Some don’t cause any symptoms, while some cause genital warts or cancers. HPV 6 and 11 are the types most likely to cause warts. HPV 16, 18, 31 and 33 are most likely to cause cancer.
HPV is a very common virus. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that nearly all unvaccinated adults will get HPV at least once. But the vaccine can prevent HPV infections with the high-risk types that cause genital warts and cancer.
Does the HPV Vaccine Work?
Yes. The HPV vaccine has been available for over 15 years now, and evidence shows that it’s both safe and effective at preventing cervical cancer and genital warts.
Since the vaccine was introduced in 2006, it has successfully decreased infections with the HPV types that cause cancers and genital warts by 88% in teen girls and by 81% in young adult women.
What Cancers Does the HPV Vaccine Prevent?
The HPV vaccine mainly protects against cervical cancer. But it can also prevent other cancers, including:
- Vaginal cancer
- Anal cancer
- Throat, mouth, head and neck cancers
The vaccine prevents cancers in both men and women.
Who Can Get the HPV Vaccine?
The HPV vaccine is available to everyone ages nine to 45, but it works best when you get it at the recommended age — and before you start having sex.
The CDC recommends that all preteens (girls and boys) get the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12. Preteens need two doses, six to 12 months apart. While 11 to 12 is the recommended time, all children ages nine to 14 can get the two dose series.
Teens and young adults
Teens and young adults ages 15 to 26 need three doses of the vaccine. The CDC also recommends the HPV vaccine for everyone in this age group who didn’t already get it as a preteen. But remember that the earlier you get the vaccine, the more effective it is.
People ages 26 to 45 can also get the HPV vaccine. But it may not be right for everyone in this age group. So if you’re in this age group and haven’t gotten the HPV vaccine yet, talk with your doctor to decide if it’s right for you.
Does the HPV Vaccine Help If I’m Already Infected with HPV?
Yes. Even if you’ve already had HPV, the vaccine can still help protect you.
This is because the vaccine protects against the 9 most high-risk strains of HPV. So even if you’ve already been infected, it’s unlikely that you’ve had all 9 types covered by the vaccine. The vaccine protects you from the other high-risk strains you haven’t had — and that can prevent future infections that could lead to warts or cancers.
If you’ve had HPV in the past, talk with your doctor about whether the HPV vaccine is right for you.
How Much Does the HPV Vaccine Cost?
For many people, the HPV vaccine is free. That’s because it’s a recommended preventive service that insurance plans have to cover under the Affordable Care Act. But check with your insurance company to make sure — especially if you’re over age 26.
If your child needs the HPV vaccine and doesn’t have vaccine coverage through your insurance, you may be eligible for assistance through the Vaccines for Children program.
- “HPV Vaccine” via Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- “Cancers Associated with Human Papillomavirus (HPV)” via CDC
- “Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Statistics” via CDC
- “HPV Vaccine: Who Needs It, How It Works” via Mayo Clinic
- “Human Papillomavirus Vaccines: An Updated Review” via Vaccines (Basel)
- “Safety of Human Papillomavirus Vaccines: An Updated Review” via Drug Safety
- “HPV Vaccination and the Risk of Invasive Cervical Cancer” via New England Journal of Medicine
- “Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccination: From Clinical Studies to Immunization Programs” International Journal of Gynecological Cancer