HPV and cervical cancer: What the connection means for your child

Child getting vaccine

Cervical cancer is a highly preventable cancer. Maybe, when you think of protecting yourself against cervical cancer, you think about getting regular Pap tests beginning at age 21. However, cervical cancer prevention can begin as early as age nine. Cervical cancer is most often caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), but there is a vaccine for young people ages 9-12 that can protect against HPV infection and significantly reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer. Parents, here’s what you need to know about a quick and easy action to help your children in the long run.

What is HPV? 

HPV is a virus that can cause at least six types of cancer. It is the cause of more than 90% of cervical cancer cases. HPV  is spread through vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who has HPV, but it can be contracted from an infected person who has no symptoms.

 HPV is a very common virus— according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly every person in the U.S. will get HPV at some point in their lifetime . Most HPV infections clear on their own, but some infections can cause cancer years after developing the infection.

What is the HPV vaccine?

HPV vaccination protects against the types of HPV most likely to cause cancer, significantly reducing the risk of at least six types of cancer: cervical cancer, vulvar cancer, vaginal cancer, penile cancer, anal cancer and oropharyngeal cancer (cancer of the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils).

This vaccine is recommended for young people ages 9-12, as it’s most effective when given to someone before they are exposed to an HPV infection. This is a prevention method similar to other recommended childhood vaccines and provides the best possible protection. When vaccinated early, your child has time to develop an immune response to HPV to avoid virus transmission when they become sexually active later in life.

Depending on the age of initial vaccination, your child may have two or three doses 6-12 months apart. It is recommended for all genders to get the HPV vaccine, as it doesn’t only affect people with a cervix. . If the vaccine is given as recommended, it can prevent more than 90% of HPV-related cancers.

Is the vaccine safe?

Yes! There is no live or killed HPV in the vaccine, so you cannot contract the virus from being vaccinated.

Several hundred studies have shown that there is no link between HPV vaccination and health problems such as autoimmune diseases, neurological conditions, fertility issues, Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), stroke, blood clots, appendicitis or seizures. As with any vaccine, there may be some side effects, such as pain or redness along the site the shot was given, fever or dizziness. These are usually mild and get better within 1-2 days.

LEARN MORE | Actor Ernie Hudson talks about the importance of getting your kids vaccinated against HPV to prevent cancer.

What if my child is older than 12 and hasn’t gotten vaccinated yet?

If your child missed the nine to 12 age range for the vaccines, it’s not too late. The HPV vaccine is still recommended for teens and young adults up to age 26.

If you’re an adult who hasn’t been vaccinated, there is an FDA-approved HPV vaccine for people ages 27 to 45. HPV vaccination is not recommended for everyone over age 26. Talk to your health care provider about the risk of new HPV infection and the possible benefits of vaccination for you.

I received the HPV vaccination as a child. What else should I be doing to protect myself against cervical cancer?

Regardless of vaccination status, people with a cervix who are of average risk should follow these screening guidelines:

  • Ages 21 to 29: Have a Pap test every three years.
  • Ages 30 to 65: Have any of these options:
    • A Pap test alone every three years.
    • A high-risk HPV test alone every five years.
    • A high-risk HPV test with a Pap test (called co-testing) every five years.

If you are at increased risk for cervical cancer because of a suppressed immune system (for example, from HIV infection, organ or stem-cell transplant or long-term steroid use), because you were exposed to DES  in utero or because you have had cervical cancer or certain precancerous conditions, you may need to be screened more often. Follow the recommendations of your health care provider. 

After age 65, talk with your health care provider about whether you still need to be screened.


Getting vaccinated against certain viruses can ultimately prevent cancer. At your child’s next appointment, speak to their health care provider and make a plan to take preventive measures against cervical cancer.

Download the Guide to Children’s Vaccinations to learn more about vaccines for your kids.