Total Prevention: Testing & Vaccination

How do I know if I have HPV?

The only way to know if you have an HPV infection is if your health care provider tests you for the virus. This may be done directly from the Pap test container or by using an additional swab at the time of the Pap test. Your health care provider may or may not perform the HPV test, depending on many factors including your age and risk factors. The only way to tell if a cancer-causing type of HPV infection has caused the cells in your cervix to change is to have a Pap test. Signs of an HPV infection may appear weeks, months or years after the first infection, which is why it is important to have regular Pap tests and HPV tests as recommended by your health care provider.

How does the vaccine work?

The cervical cancer vaccine takes prevention a giant leap forward by blocking the first step along the pathway to cervical cancer, HPV infection. The vaccine is given in the arm or thigh three times—at the first visit, two months later and four months after that. The best protection is achieved after all three shots are given. It is not known at this time whether booster shots will be needed later. Studies show that the vaccine is extremely safe. There are no live viruses in the vaccine. The most common side effects are redness and soreness where the shot was given. Headaches (like when you have a cold or fever) are also common. Fever can also occur. Over the counter pain and fever medications will help if you have symptoms. As with any new medication, safety issues will continue to be monitored.

Can you prevent HPV?

Good news! There is now a vaccine to prevent HPV infection. Girls and women age 9-26 can protect themselves from HPV and cervical changes related to HPV by getting the HPV vaccine. See your doctor for complete details and advice.


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