We may not talk about gynecological cancers as much as we talk about breast cancer or leukemia, but it is equally as important to learn about these cancers, what causes them, and what we can do to protect ourselves.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that can infect males and females. The two HPV vaccines available, Gardasil and Cervarix, are the first and only preventative cancer vaccines, which have been developed to fight against the many gynecological cancers that HPV causes, including cervical, vulvar, and vaginal cancers. In fact, HPV is responsible for 70% of all cervical cancers 4. HPV is also responsible for other types of cancers, like penile, throat, tongue, and anal cancers, and can cause genital warts in those who do not develop cancer.

In recent years, fewer and fewer parents are opting to vaccinate their sons and daughters against various diseases, including HPV. There are a myriad of reasons why, but the fact is, less than 14% of boys and less than 38% of girls between the ages of 11 and 13 years received the three-dose HPV vaccination in 2013 7.

Here are 3 important reasons to get you or your loved ones vaccinated against HPV:

1. The HPV Vaccine is considered safe & effective  

Safety of the vaccine is generally the most common concern parents and patients often have. The two HPV vaccines on the market today, Gardasil and Cervarix, are considered safe by the FDA and the CDC 5. Gardasil has been tested in thousands of females ages 9 to 26 years, and has distributed over 170 million doses 6. The FDA and CDC both agree that Gardasil is safe, with only minor, temporary side effects like joint pain, fainting, muscle weakness, and soreness around injection site.

Similarly, Cervarix has been tested in over 18,000 women in more than 14 different countries and has been deemed safe by the FDA and the CDC. As in Gardasil, side effects of Cervarix are all minor, temporary side effects including pain, swelling, and redness at the injection site, headaches, fainting, and muscle pains. In addition to their safety, these HPV vaccinations work. Recent studies have confirmed that receiving the HPV vaccination can protect for at least 8 years. This study followed vaccinated pre-teens from the time they were vaccinated 8 years ago, and has found that even today, their bodies are still going strong, producing the antibodies needed to protect against HPV 2. The study also confirmed that none of the vaccinated pre-teens developed any HPV-related conditions from the vaccination.

2. HPV Can Be Dangerous

Though chlamydia and gonorrhea get more of the limelight for being common sexually transmitted diseases, HPV is actually the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD). HPV is so common that most sexually active males and females will inevitably contract it, even if they engage in monogamous sexual relationships1. Today, there are 79 million Americans living with HPV, and every year 14 million more Americans become diagnosed with the disease 5. There are more than 40 different types of HPV, with HPV-16 and HPV-18 accounting for 70% of all cervical cancers, and HPV-6 and HPV-11 accounting for 90% of all cases of genital warts. Furthermore, HPV can evolve into a myriad of different cancers, including: cervical, vaginal, vulvar, penile, anal, throat, and tongue cancers, and also cause genital warts. While some people living with HPV live normal lives, there is no way to predict whose HPV will remain dormant and whose will develop into one of the seven different cancers that HPV is responsible for.

3. It is readily available, and covered by most insurance companies

Knowing the types of cancers and diseases HPV can cause can help us to protect ourselves and our children. Some parents worry that vaccinating their children is synonymous with giving them permission to engage in sexual activity at a young age. It’s important to remember, however, that the HPV vaccination is not designed to facilitate sexual activity in 11 and 12 year olds 1; instead, it’s administered to young, pre-teens in order to prevent exposure to the disease before they become sexually active young adults. However, this is not to say that you cannot still get the vaccine. Through age 26, the HPV vaccine can be administered, so still take advantage of this opportunity and get vaccinated.

The Human Papillomavirus can be very dangerous if it evolves into any of the seven different types of cancer it is known to cause. HPV is so common that almost all sexually active men and women will contract some form of it during their lives 3.

Schedule that appointment, and talk with your or your child’s doctor about the HPV vaccine. It is the best way to protect yourself and your children from this disease and variety of cancers it causes.


1. Genital HPV Infection – Fact Sheet. (2014, March 20). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved September 4, 2014, from http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm

2. “HPV Vaccine Protects Against Infection 8 Years Out: Study: MedlinePlus.” U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 18 Aug. 2014. Web. 11 Sept. 2014. <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fu

3. “HPV Vaccine – Questions & Answers.”Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 Aug. 2014. Web. 11 Sept. 2014. <http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/hpv/vac-faqs.htm>.

4. Human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer. (n.d.). WHO. Retrived September 3, 2014, from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs380/en/

5. “Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine.”Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18 Aug. 2014. Web. 11 Sept. 2014. <http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/vaccines/HPV/index.html>.

6.  Jr., D. M. (2014, March 31). Expansion in Use of Cancer Vaccine. The New York Times. Retrieved  September 4, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/01/health/an-expansion-in-use-of-cancer-vaccine.html?_r=0

7. Wadman, M. (2014, August 21). The cure for cancer that parents won’t use. Washington Post. Retrieved September 4, 2014, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/meredith-wadman-hpv-vaccinations-will-guard-against-a-rising-cancer-threat/2014/08/21/846d5766-27de-11e4-958c-268a320a60ce_story.html