HPV Explained


What is the HPV vaccine?

HPV: You may have heard it mentioned on television, seen it on a poster or heard about it from your health care provider, but what is it? In short, it is a vaccine that can decrease your risk of developing cancer. For the longer answer, continue reading.

What is HPV?

HPV is a virus that comes in over 100 forms. It is transmitted from person to person through sexual contact. Approximately 80% of women will have HPV at some point during their lives, typically during their late teens and early 20s, making HPV the most common sexually transmitted infection. Different types of HPV cause different types of infection. Some low-risk types cause genital warts while others, the high-risk types, can cause cancer of the penis, anus, vagina, vulva or cervix. HPV types 16 and 18 are the most common causes of cervix cancer. 

What happens if I get HPV?

Fortunately, most HPV infections resolve spontaneously. Some women may have mild, temporary changes to their cervix causing an abnormal pap smear but this can return to normal after the HPV infection clears.

The longer the HPV infection remains present those mild cervical changes can become moderate or severe changes and after several years precancerous or cancerous changes can develop. This is why regular pap smears are recommended, to catch these cervical changes before they become severe. If detected, the abnormal cells can be removed. 

Genital warts caused by HPV can be treated medically or surgically depending on their size, location and patient discomfort. 

How can I avoid HPV?

There are several things that can be done to help prevent infection and decrease the risk of persistent infection. 

Who can get the vaccine and how is it given?

The vaccine is approved for men and women ages 9-45. Ideally it is given prior to sexual debut and any possibly HPV exposure however it is still effective for people who have had intercourse and even those who have had a prior HPV infection. Because there are so many different types of HPV, the vaccine can protect them from acquiring any additional types.  

If the vaccine is given at age 9-14, two shots are given 6-12 months apart. If the vaccine is given age 15-45, three doses are necessary. The first is given, then 2 months later the second dose is given and 6 months later the last dose is given. 

If you have any questions, concerns or are interested in receiving the HPV vaccine and decreasing your risk of developing cancer please contact your healthcare provider. 

Dr. Gottschalk Dr. Kathryn Gottschalk OBGYN

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