One of the most significant advances in the fight against cervical cancer is the development of HPV vaccines. Early vaccination with regular screening, which includes a Pap test and HPV test when recommended according to current guidelines, is now the most effective way to prevent cervical cancer.
In June 2006, the first vaccine, known as a quadrivalent vaccine, was approved by the FDA for use in 9-26 year old women and girls. In large clinical trials, the vaccine was found to be very effective in protecting women from developing pre-cancerous lesions of the cervix, vulva and vagina. More recently, this vaccine has been approved and recommended for boys. A second vaccine, known as a bivalent vaccine, was approved by the FDA in October 2009 for girls and women only.
Both vaccines are administered as an injection, or shot, in a 3-dose series. Either HPV vaccine is routinely recommended for 11- or 12-year-old girls. The quadrivalent HPV vaccine is routinely recommended for 11- or 12-year-old boys. The vaccine series can be started beginning at age 9 years. Vaccination is also recommended for 13- through 26-year-old females and 13- through 26-year-old males who have not yet completed the vaccine series.
Ideally, girls and boys should be vaccinated before beginning sexual activity. Studies show that the vaccines are extremely safe. The most common side effects are redness and soreness where the shot was given, similar to other vaccines. Headaches (like when you have a cold or fever) are also common. Fever can occur, but can be relieved with over the counter medications.
The vaccination should not be given to individuals who are acutely ill, who have a history of being allergic to yeast, or those who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant.