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HPV, or human papillomavirus, is most commonly known for causing warts and cervical cancer. There are more than 100 different types of HPV, and about 30 of them increase cancer risk. There is an HPV vaccine available, called Gardasil, that can help to prevent the HPV infection responsible for cervical cancer. However, only persistent HPV infections can cause cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is the third most common cancer affecting women in the United States.
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What Are the Symptoms of Human Papillomavirus?
Most HPV infections will not cause any symptoms. If an infection does cause symptoms, it depends on the type of HPV. Some symptoms include:
- Genital warts
- Pre-malignant genital lesions
- Upper respiratory and oral lesions
- Cervical cancer and other tumors
- Plantar warts
- Common warts
- Flat warts
If cervical cancer is present a woman can experience:
- Continuous vaginal discharge (can be watery, brown, foul-smelling, pale, pink, or bloody)
- Periods that last longer and become heavier
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods, or after menopause
- Any bleeding after menopause
- Loss of appetite
- Back pain
- Single swollen leg
- Leaking of feces or urine from the vagina
- Weight loss
- Pelvic pain
- Leg pain
- Heavy vaginal bleeding
- Bone fractures
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What is the HPV Vaccine and What is its Purpose?
Gardasil protects against the most common HPV types. These are 6, 11, 16, and 18, making it a quadrivalent vaccine. This vaccine is administered over a six month period and requires three separate injections. The vaccine is approved to be administered to both males and females between the ages of 9 and 26.
The HPV vaccine Gardasil does not completely guarantee that a woman will not get cervical cancer and cannot completely protect a patient from a persistent infection caused by a type of HPV not included in the vaccine.
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What are the Possible HPV Vaccine Side Effects?
Most HPV vaccine side effects are not serious. These include:
- Injection site redness, swelling, and pain
- Fever higher than 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Abdominal pain
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Who Should Not Get the HPV Vaccine?
Certain factors may prevent or delay being able to get the HPV vaccine. These factors include:
- Being pregnant
- Having a moderate or severe illness
- Having had a life-threatening allergic reaction to a previous HPV vaccine dose or component of the vaccine.
- Being allergic to latex
All patients should make the doctor administering the HPV vaccine aware of their current and past medical history and medications.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). List of Vaccines in the United States. Retrieved on June 24, 2010 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/vaccines-list.htm
Medline Plus. (2010). HPV. Retrieved on June 24, 2010 from Medline Plus: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/hpv.html#cat5
Medline Plus. (2010). Cervical Cancer. Retrieved on June 24, 2010 from Medline Plus: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000893.htm
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