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Gardasil is one of two vaccines approved for preventing human papillomavirus (HPV). Both protect against the two types of HPV that cause most cases of cervical cancer. Gardasil also protects against two other types of HPV that cause most cases of genital warts in women and men.

Learn more about the HPV vaccine.

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Genital warts

Genital warts are soft growths on the skin and mucus membranes of the genitals. They may be found on the penis, vulva, urethra, vagina, cervix, and around and in the anus.

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Cancer is a general term for more than 100 diseases caused by uncontrolled, abnormal cell growth and death. The four most common cancers affect the breasts, colon or rectum, lungs and prostate.

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Cervical dysplasia

Cervical dysplasia refers to abnormal changes in the cells on the surface of the cervix. The changes can lead to cancer of the cervix if not treated.

Learn more about cervical dysplasia.

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Pap smear

The Pap smear is a screening test for cervical cancer. Cells scraped from the opening of the cervix are examined under a microscope.

Learn more about Pap smear.

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Cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is cancer that starts in the cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (womb) that opens at the top of the vagina.

Learn more about Pap smear.

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Sexually transmitted disease (STD)

A sexually transmitted disease (STD) is an infection caused by bacteria or a virus. It is also known as a sexually transmitted infection (STI). STDs are spread by oral, genital, or anal sex.

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A condom can help prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections when used correctly during sex.

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Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection and vaccine: What you need to know

Human papillomavirus

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name of a group of viruses that includes more than 100 different types. More than 30 of those are sexually transmitted.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 50 percent of sexually active people will get HPV at some time in their lives. Every year, about 6.2 million people in the United States will get HPV.

Once the virus (germ) infects a cell in the genital area of men and women, it copies itself and keeps infecting healthy cells. When the dead cells shed, you may pass the virus to someone else.

HPV can lead to cancer of the:

  • cervix, vulva or vagina in women
  • anus, penis or throat in men

HPV vaccine

Gardasil® is the first vaccine developed to help prevent genital warts and cervical cancer caused by certain types of HPV.

Gardasil will help prevent 90 percent of genital warts. It can also help prevent 70 percent of cancers found in the cervix, penis, anus or throat.

This vaccine is recommended for:

  • all girls and women, ages 9 to 26
  • all boys and men, ages 11 to 21

They should get the vaccine before they are sexually active.

Gardasil is given through a series of three injections (shots) within 6 months. It is important to get all three doses for the most protection. Even if you forget to get a dose, it is not too late to finish the series.

Those who are sexually active may still benefit from the vaccine. Very few are infected with all four types of HPV covered by the vaccine, so they will still get protection for the types they do not have.

Girls and women who already have HPV infections such as genital warts or dysplasia (normal cells in the cervix become abnormal, but are not cancer), may also benefit from the vaccine.

This vaccine will not treat or cure HPV, but it can help prevent future infections.

HPV symptoms

Most people who have HPV do not have any symptoms and do not know they are infected. The virus may be passed on to others without knowing it.

Some people may get genital warts. These are single or multiple bumps that are found in the genital area. They can also be cauliflower shaped.

How HPV is spread

HPV infections are spread by:

  • vaginal, oral or anal sex
  • contact with another person’s genital warts

A pregnant woman can pass HPV to her baby during vaginal delivery, but this is rare.

How HPV is diagnosed

For women, your health care provider can find the infection during a routine Pap test.

A Pap test is used to find abnormal cells in the cervix. It can also find cervical cancer early when it is easier to treat and cure.

If you are not at an increased risk for cervical cancer, and you have no history of abnormal Pap test results, your health care provider will recommend the following schedule.

  • Ages 20 and younger: no screening needed, regardless of sexual history.
  • Ages 21 to 29: Pap test every 3 years
  • Ages 30 to 65:
  • Ages 66 and older: no screening needed, regardless of sexual history, if you have had:
    • negative screenings for several years
    • no history of uterine or cervical cancer

If you have signs or symptoms of a cervical problem, your provider may recommend a different schedule.

Men with risk factors for anal HPV can be tested.

How to treat HPV

There is no treatment to make HPV go away. Sometimes your immune system fights off the virus to make it go away on its own.

If HPV causes genital warts or dysplasia (abnormal cells in the cervix) these both can be treated.

Talk to your health care provider about the best treatment for you.

How to keep from getting HPV

One way to protect against getting HPV is to not have any genital contact with another infected person.

If you choose to be sexually active, be involved in a long-term relationship with one partner who is not infected to help prevent HPV infections.

If you choose to be sexually active and not in a long-term relationship:

  • Limit your sexual partners.
  • Find out if your partner has ever had a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
  • Use latex condoms when having any kind of sexual contact. It is currently unknown if condoms prevent HPV.
  • Men and women can get HPV from genital areas that are not covered by a latex condom.
  • It is also possible to get HPV from genital areas that are covered by a condom.
  • Using condoms has been shown to lower the rate of getting cervical cancer and help protect you from other STDs.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection and Vaccine: What You Need To Know, ic-ah-14301
Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department
First Published: 11/15/2012
Last Reviewed: 11/15/2012