Who Should Get the HPV Vaccination and Why

little girl smiles at her mom after getting a vaccination

HPV stands for human papillomavirus. There are more than 150 types of HPV, and HPV infection is very common. Most of the time, infection with HPV doesn’t cause health problems and just goes away on its own. People usually don’t even know they have it. But in some cases, HPV doesn’t go away. When that happens, some types of HPV can cause genital warts, while other types can lead to cancer.

Vaccinations can protect people from getting the types of HPV that most often cause genital warts and cancer. The vaccinations work best when given to people when they’re young. Girls and boys should ideally begin getting the vaccine series at age 11 or 12.

Who should get the vaccine?

The American Cancer Society recommends that girls and boys begin getting the vaccine series at age 11 or 12. The vaccine causes a better immune response at this age than during the teenage years. Children are also likely still seeing their doctor regularly and getting other vaccinations at this age.

For the HPV vaccine to work best, it is also important to get it before coming into contact with the virus. That’s why the vaccine is recommended for children before they grow up and become sexually active. The vaccination series can be started as early as age 9.

For those who did not get vaccinated at ages 11-12, or who did not complete the series, the recommendation is that females ages 13-26 and males ages 13-21 be vaccinated. Men can also get the vaccination up to age 26. However, the vaccine is not as effective in lowering cancer risk in men or women after age 21.

How do people get HPV?

HPV gets passed from one person to another during skin-to-skin contact with an infected part of the body. It can be spread through sexual contact. You cannot get HPV from toilet seats, swimming pools, or sharing food. But almost everyone who is not vaccinated will get HPV at some time in their lives.

Vaccinating your child against HPV protects them from getting infected with HPV when they’re older. Even if someone waits until marriage to have sex, they could still get infected with HPV from their spouse. And getting the vaccine does not lead to changes in sexual behavior. Studies show young people who get the vaccine do not start having sex any earlier than those who did not get the vaccine.

How many people get cancer because of HPV?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV causes about 31,500 new cases of cancer every year in the US. Almost all cervical cancer is caused by HPV. The virus has also been linked to cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and throat.

And the problem seems to be growing among men. A study published in Annals of Internal Medicine found that more men are becoming infected with an oral type of HPV infection that can cause throat and tongue cancers. According to the report, men are now getting HPV-related oral cancers at a faster rate than women are getting HPV-related cervical cancers. The researchers say this trend is expected to continue and not reverse until after the year 2060.

Is the vaccine safe?

Yes. More than 80 million doses of the HPV vaccine have been given in the US with no serious problems. Some people have temporary side effects when they get the vaccine such as dizziness, nausea, pain, redness, or swelling. And in rare cases, a person may have an allergic reaction to certain vaccines if they’re allergic to yeast or latex.

Some parents are worried about vaccine ingredients, one being aluminum. There is aluminum in the HPV vaccine, but it’s a safe amount. Aluminum-containing vaccines have been used for years and in more than 1 billion people. In fact, we come in contact with aluminum every day. It’s in foods we eat, water, and even breast milk. Every day, babies, children, and adults come into contact with more aluminum than what’s in the vaccine.

Some parents are worried that the vaccine could cause fertility problems (problems having children). However, research has not shown that HPV vaccines cause any fertility problems. In fact, by preventing cervical cancer, the vaccine can help protect women from fertility problems caused by cervical cancer treatment. 

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.


American Cancer Society news stories are copyrighted material and are not intended to be used as press releases. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.