Who Should Get the HPV Vaccine?

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Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection of the cervix can lead to cervical cancer. A vaccine designed to prevent cervical cancer and other diseases caused by infection with HPVs was approved for use in the U.S. in June 2006. This was the first vaccine to be developed against a known risk factor for the development of a cancer.

While some HPV types infect the skin and cause benign warts and other lesions, about 40 types of HPVs can infect the genital tract. Genital HPV infection is very common in the general population; estimates suggest that up to 50% or more of all sexually-active people will be infected at some point in their lives. In the majority of cases, the infection does not cause any symptoms, but in some women, HPV infection can progress to cause precancerous and cancerous lesions of the uterine cervix. HPVs that infect the genital area are also associated with other less common genital cancers in men and women such as cancers of the anus, vagina, penis, and vulva. HPV infection also causes genital warts in both men and women.

The most common HPV types that infect the genital area are HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18. Among these, HPV types 6 and 11 are most commonly associated with benign lesions, such as genital warts and mild precancerous changes of the cervix. In contrast, HPV types 16 and 18 are the types found in the majority of cancers as well as in severe precancerous changes of the cervix. The vaccine, called Gardasil, targets these four common HPV types.