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January is Cervical Cancer Month

January is Cervical Cancer Month

HPV Vaccine Offers Protection Against Certain Cancers

Every year, 30,000 Americans are diagnosed with cancer caused by human papillomavirus, or “HPV” for short. Many of these cancers can be prevented through vaccination.


HPV is a group of more than 150 viruses transmitted through skin-to-skin contact—usually by vaginal or anal sex.

About 80 million people, or one in four, are infected with HPV today in the United States. It’s so common that most people will have it at some point during their lives.

In 9 out of 10 cases, HPV goes away on its own and causes no symptoms or health problems. But when it doesn’t go away, it can cause serious health issues such as:

  • Cervical cancer in women
  • Vaginal and vulvar cancers in women
  • Anal cancer in men and women
  • Throat cancers in men and women
  • Penile cancer in men
  • Genital warts in men and women

Because the HPV virus often has no symptoms and there is no screening for most of the cancers caused by it, vaccines are critical for preventing infection in the first place.


HPV vaccines offer safe, proven and enduring protection from cancers caused by the virus. All children who are 11 or 12 years old should get two HPV vaccinations 6 months to a year apart.

Children will need a third dose if they receive their shots less than five months apart or if they’re older than 15. Three doses are also recommended for people ages 9 to 26 who have certain conditions that compromise their immune systems.

Like any vaccine or medication, the HPV vaccines can cause side effects, including pain, redness or swelling at the injection site, dizziness, fainting, nausea, and headache. However, according to doctors, the benefits of being protected against cancers caused by HPV far outweigh the risk of side effects.

Trends in Virginia

Across the country, the rate of HPV vaccination is lower than health experts would like, and Virginia is no exception. Although it was one of the first states to pass legislation mandating the vaccine, many Virginia parents still decide to “opt-out” of the vaccine for their children.

In 2015, 61 percent of adolescent girls and 40 percent of boys in Virginia received at least one dose of the HPV vaccine. That is behind the national average of 63 percent for girls and 50 percent for boys. The numbers fall even further if you look at whether all of the recommended doses are given.

For up-to-date information about the HPV vaccine, talk to your family doctor or pediatrician or visit the CDC website.