Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus transmitted through sexual contact. Almost all cervical cancers are linked to HPV. The virus is also linked to vulvar, vaginal, penile and anal cancer, and cancer of the head and neck. Most sexually active American women will be exposed to the virus by the time they turn 50.
Avoiding HPV is the best way to reduce a woman’s risk of cervical cancer. HPV vaccinations and routine Pap tests make cervical cancer one of the most preventable cancers. Practicing safe sex can also reduce a woman’s likelihood of getting cervical cancer, but HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom.
Speak with your health care professional about the HPV vaccine. HPV vaccinations are given as a series of three shots over six months. They come in two forms: Cervarix and Gardasil. Both forms are approved for HPV prevention in women, but only Gardasil, which protects against genital warts and cancers of the anus, vagina, and vulva, along with cervical cancer, is approved for men.
HPV vaccines are primarily for girls and boys aged 11 or 12, but they are also recommended for women through age 26 and men through age 21 who were unable to get vaccines at an earlier age. It is important to note that women who get vaccines still need to have regular Pap tests.