The HPV Vaccine: Myths vs. Facts

Health Writer
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The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of more than 150 viruses. Some types of HPV cause genital warts, and others can lead to cancers of the cervix, head and neck, anus, rectum, penis, vagina, or vulva. Thankfully, the HPV vaccine can prevent infection by the types of HPV most likely to cause cancer. But while it was first approved by the FDA in 2006, there are still many myths and misunderstandings about the vaccine. Read on to separate fact from fiction.


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Myth: The body’s immune system clears HPV, so you don’t need to be vaccinated

Facts: The body’s immune system usually clears the HPV virus on its own within a few years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But when the immune system is not able to do this, the HPV virus lingers, without symptoms, for years, and can develop into cancer.


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Myth: The HPV vaccine may be harmful to my child

Facts: The FDA approved the vaccine in 2006, and more than 270 million doses of the vaccine have been given since then, according to the American Cancer Society; studies continue to show it is safe. Some people may experience a headache or fever after receiving the vaccine, or they may notice redness or swelling around the injection site, but these are mild side effects and usually disappear within a day or two. One thing to note is that anyone with a severe yeast allergy should not get the vaccine.


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Myth: Only girls should receive the HPV vaccine

Facts: Many people think the HPV vaccine is just a vaccine for cervical cancer; while this is true, and the vaccine protects against about 70 percent of cervical cancers, according to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, its benefits don’t stop there. It can also protect against types of HPV that cause genital warts in any gender, as well as cancers beyond the cervix, such as throat cancer. In fact, HPV-related throat cancers in men are on the rise, so boys should be vaccinated, too.


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Myth: You can only get the HPV vaccine if you have never had sex

Facts: It’s true that it’s recommended that children and teens of any gender receive the HPV vaccine before becoming sexually active and exposed to HPV. However, the Gardasil-9 vaccine has been approved by the FDA for both men and women up to the age of 45. You can even receive the vaccine if you already have HPV; just know that it won’t treat your existing virus, but rather help protect you from additional viruses, according to Planned Parenthood.


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Myth: The HPV vaccine must not be important because schools don’t require it

Facts: The HPV vaccine is required in some states, such as Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., and legislation has been introduced to make it required in many other states, according to Penn Medicine. Even if your state does not require the vaccine for your child to attend school, the vaccine is important to help protect against cervical cancer, the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in women, and other cancers.


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Myth: The HPV vaccine can cause later fertility issues

Facts: There is no evidence that the HPV vaccine causes fertility issues, according the American Cancer Society. On the contrary, the vaccine can help protect against cervical cancer and other cancers that may interfere with fertility.


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Myth: The HPV vaccine encourages teens to become sexually active at an earlier age

Facts: Children receive numerous vaccines when they are growing up and probably do not think much about the reason for the vaccine. Preventive vaccines are a normal part of growing up. Studies show no difference in sexual activity between children and teens who did or did not receive the vaccine, according to Penn Medicine.


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Myth: The vaccine isn’t needed because HPV is rare

Facts: Four out of five women will be infected with HPV by age 50, and it’s also very common in men, according to the CDC. Most people’s immune system will clear the virus on its own without it causing problems, and because there are often no symptoms, many people will never know they have the virus.


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Myth: The HPV vaccine causes early menopause

Facts: The virus does not cause premature ovarian failure, which can lead to early menopause, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The safety of the HPV vaccine is continuously monitored and the six reports issued related to ovarian failure have found no link between the HPV vaccine and ovarian failure or early menopause.


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The bottom line: The HPV virus is safe and effective

Despite the prevalence of myths about the HPV vaccine, research shows it is a safe and effective way to prevent several types of cancers, including cervical and throat cancers, along with genital warts. Getting your child vaccinated is a sure way to reduce their risk of cancer later in life.