Cervical cancer affects the cervix — part of a woman's reproductive system. The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer. HPV is a common virus that is passed from one person to another during sex. At least half of all sexually active people will get HPV at some point in their lives, but only some women will get cervical cancer.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. Most sexually active people get it at some time in their lives. Most HPV infections don’t cause symptoms and go away on their own.
Long-term HPV infection can sometimes cause cervical cancer. It can also cause genital warts and less common types of cancer in both men and women.
Get vaccinated against HPV to help prevent cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine has been thoroughly tested. Studies before the vaccine was released suggested that among females, the HPV vaccine was up to 99% effective in preventing cervical, vaginal and vulvar abnormalities, which can develop into cancer if left untreated. The vaccine was also 89% to 99% effective in preventing genital warts in males and females. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process indicates this vaccine is safe (see FDA and CDC websites for more information).
Male and female pre-teens, teens and young adults should get the vaccine before they become sexually active. While the vaccine works best when it is given before having any kind of sexual exposure, teens and young adults can still benefit from it after becoming sexually active.