HPV Vaccine FAQs

Quick Facts: The HPV Vaccine and What It Means for You

Good news! A vaccine designed to protect against the two most common cancer-causing types of the HPV virus is available! The first such HPV vaccine is called Gardasil, and another one is called Cervarix. With the introduction of these HPV vaccines, the dream of eliminating cervical cancer is increasingly within reach.

However, the vaccine isn’t for everyone and a regular Pap and (if 30 and over) HPV test is still necessary even for those who are vaccinated. Read on for more information.

Q

How does the vaccine work? What protection does it offer?

A

Gardasil and Cervarix (in countries where approved) protect against the two types of HPV that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers (types 16 and 18). Furthermore, Gardasil offers protection against the two types that cause most genital warts (6 and 11). However, the vaccines have not been proven to be effective against HPV infections that already exist due to previous sexual contact. Thus, their protection is incomplete and women still need to be screened periodically using a Pap and (once 30 or over) the HPV test.



Q

Who should get the HPV vaccine?

A

The vaccine has not been shown to be effective in protecting women who already have been exposed to the targeted types of the virus. Thus, it is best to get vaccinated before a woman’s first sexual relationship.

A note about men: Males get HPV too and can pass the virus to women. However, the use of the HPV vaccine for boys or men has not been approved yet. There are currently no data demonstrating that the vaccine can protect them from getting genital warts or developing HPV-related cancers (such as cancer of the penis, which is rare), or that it can prevent transmission of the virus to women.



Q

How long does the vaccine’s protection last?

A

So far, studies show the protection offered by Gardasil and Cervarix (in countries where approved) lasts at least five years. It is unknown at this time whether additional, “booster” shots are needed later.



Q

Can a person still get cervical cancer or genital warts after vaccination? Are regular Paps and HPV testing still necessary after being vaccinated?

A

Yes to both questions! Even with a vaccine, women will still need a regular Pap and – if 30 or over – the HPV test. That's because:

  • The protection offered by the vaccine is incomplete. There are roughly 15 types of the HPV virus that can cause cervical cancer. Gardasil and Cervarix (in countries where approved) are designed to protect against two types of the virus that are responsible for 70 percent of all cervical cancers. However, they cannot fully protect women against the remaining 30 percent of cervical cancers that are caused by other "high-risk" types of HPV. 
  • The vaccine cannot protect everyone. HPV is transmitted through intimate (sexual) skin-to-skin contact. Thus, to be fully effective, current research suggests that the vaccine should be given before girls become sexually active. In other words, the ideal time to get the vaccine is during adolescence. 
  • There are a lot of unknowns. For example, it is not known whether a "booster" vaccine shot will be needed later in life to ensure continued protection.

Thus, vaccination and Pap and HPV testing are essential tools in the fight against cervical cancer.