During an annual physical exam, your primary doctor may recommend an HPV vaccination for you or your child. This vaccine helps prevent human papillomavirus (HPV) infections, which have been linked to cervical cancer.

The HPV vaccine does not cause or prevent ovarian cancer.

It’s important to talk with your doctor about HPV vaccinations. In this article, we review the benefits of this vaccine and how you can protect yourself from cancers caused by HPV, as well as those not caused by HPV, such as ovarian cancer.

The HPV vaccine does not cause any type of cancer

As with other types of vaccines, some myths have circulated about the HPV vaccine. While you may have concerns about getting you or your child vaccinated, the science does not show that the HPV vaccine causes any type of cancer — including ovarian cancer.

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The HPV vaccine is designed to help protect against the related viruses and cancers that may cause cervical cancer.

2020 research indicates that not only does HPV vaccination prevent the viruses that can lead to cancer, but getting your recommended vaccines is directly linked to cervical cancer prevention.

HPV infection is the most common cause of cervical cancer and may also cause:

It’s possible to carry HPV asymptomatically (without having symptoms). It can spread to others through sexual contact years after you first contract the infection.

HPV vaccine recommendation guidelines

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adolescents of all genders get two to three doses of the HPV vaccine around the ages of 11 or 12.

If you didn’t get vaccinated against HPV as an adolescent, you may still be able to catch up on your vaccinations through age 26.

While the HPV vaccine is primarily recommended for preteens to young adults, adults 27 to 45 years of age may still benefit from getting vaccinated. Talk with a doctor if you fall into this age group and are interested in receiving HPV vaccinations.

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The HPV vaccine does not offer protection against ovarian cancer. The vaccine only protects against the cancers caused by HPV infection, and ovarian cancer is not one of them.

Researchers hope that a vaccine specifically designed to protect against ovarian cancer may be available at some point in the future.

Some potential ovarian cancer vaccines are currently in development, with clinical trials still underway. Types of vaccines being considered include adjuvants, dendritic cells, or biovectors to target ovarian cancer tumor development and help prevent progression.

Ovarian cancer itself is thought to develop in the fallopian tubes and may be attributed to either genetic (inherited) or acquired (noninherited) cell mutations.

While there’s no single known measure to prevent ovarian cancer, you can talk with a doctor about ways to reduce your risk. You may have a lower risk of ovarian cancer if you have:

  • given birth
  • breastfed or chestfed
  • used birth control pills (oral contraceptives) for 5 years or longer
  • undergone certain procedures, such as a hysterectomy, tubal ligation, or ovary removal

When to contact a doctor

It’s also important that possible ovarian cancer is diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. Talk with a doctor if you’re experiencing the following symptoms, especially if they go on for 2 weeks or more:

  • unusual vaginal discharge or vaginal bleeding (especially if you’re postmenopausal)
  • pelvic pain
  • abdominal pain
  • back pain
  • feeling full quickly after eating
  • bloating
  • constipation
  • frequent urination

Is the HPV vaccine safe?

Yes, the HPV vaccine is considered safe. Although serious side effects such as allergic reactions are possible, these are considered rare. Overall, the benefits of the HPV vaccine outweigh any possible risks.

Does the HPV vaccine cause ovarian failure?

No. The HPV vaccine does not cause ovarian failure. This myth stems from studies that included women experiencing ovarian insufficiency, but it was not linked to HPV infection or vaccination.

Does the HPV vaccine cause autoimmune disorders?

No. Multiple studies on HPV vaccines have failed to find any link between vaccination and the development of autoimmune disorders.

Can the HPV vaccine treat HPV infections?

HPV vaccines cannot treat an active HPV infection. Like other vaccines, the goal of HPV vaccination is to prevent HPV infections and subsequent complications. This is the best preventive measure, as there’s no cure available for HPV infection.

Do I still need an HPV vaccine if I get regular Pap smears?

Yes. Getting an HPV vaccine is the best way to prevent associated infections, but it doesn’t protect against all of the 100-plus strains of the virus. This is why regular Pap smears are also recommended. A Pap smear is a screening procedure that looks for the presence of precancerous or cancerous cells on your cervix.

Vaccination is the best way to prevent HPV infection and possible related cancers. There are a number of myths surrounding this vaccine, and you should discuss these along with any other concerns you have with a primary care doctor or your child’s pediatrician if they have one.

While the HPV vaccine may help protect against cervical cancer, it does not prevent ovarian cancer. If you’re concerned about ovarian cancer, talk with a doctor about your individual risk factors and steps you can take to help prevent it.