Cedars-Sinai Blog

HPV Vaccine: Myths vs. Facts

Myths about the HPV vaccine obscure its importance for both men's and women's long term health.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of more than 150 related viruses transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact. HPV is so common that nearly everyone will contract it at some point.

HPV can be transmitted by someone who has no signs or symptoms. And symptoms can develop years after the virus is contracted, making it a challenge to know when you encountered it.

In most cases, HPV will go away on its own without any health problems. When it doesn't go away, in can lead to a very common sexually transmitted disease, genital warts, which can lead to cancer in both men and women.

Vaccination could prevent 80% of cervical cancers in the US if given to all 11- or 12-year-old children before they are exposed to the virus.

A vaccine can protect against the types of HPV that most commonly cause cancer.

Myths about the HPV vaccine have obscured its importance for the health of both men and women.

"This is a topic that I am very passionate about," says Dr. Ilana Cass, vice chair of the Cedars-Sinai Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. "People need to understand that HPV vaccine saves lives. About 5% of all cancers are thought to be directly attributable to HPV. Avoiding vaccination against this virus jeopardizes your health."

Vaccination could prevent 80% of cervical cancers in the US if given to all 11- or 12-year-old children before they are exposed to the virus.

We asked Dr. Cass, a gynecologic oncologist with 25 years of experience, to answer some other common questions about the vaccine.

Is HPV vaccine just for girls?

No, it is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for boys and girls ages 11-26. The vaccine will work better and protect more people if girls and boys get vaccinated. We now understand that the vaccine will also protect against cancers related to the mouth and oropharynx (the back of the throat), which affects men more than women. So the vaccine truly can help both sexes.

What are the side effects, and how safe is the vaccine?

HPV vaccine is incredibly safe and effective. There have been repeated studies and monitoring of the vaccine that show it to have minimal side effects—mostly just local tenderness and temporary pain at the injection site.

Is it true that teenagers who receive the vaccine become more sexually active?

Absolutely not. In fact, studies have shown that teenagers who get the vaccine have better awareness of the risks of unprotected intercourse and sexually transmitted diseases. Getting the HPV vaccine is a way to both protect yourself and take better care of yourself.

Do women who get the vaccine against HPV still need Pap tests?

Yes, Pap smears are still an important part of cancer screening because the vaccine does not cover all possible strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer. It may be possible in the future to extend the interval of time between Pap smear screening for women who were vaccinated, but we don’t have enough data yet.