Cervical cancer vaccine: Who needs it, how it works

Who needs the cervical cancer vaccine? How many doses? What about side effects? Get answers to these questions and more.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

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Most cervical cancers are caused by the sexually transmitted infection human papillomavirus (HPV). Widespread HPV immunization, however, could reduce the impact of cervical cancer worldwide. Here, Bobbie S. Gostout, M.D., an HPV infection expert and gynecologic surgeon at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., discusses the cervical cancer vaccine.

What does the cervical cancer vaccine do?

Various strains of HPV, which spread through sexual contact, cause most cases of cervical cancer. Two cervical cancer vaccines have Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in the U.S. — Gardasil, for girls and boys, and Cervarix, for girls only. Both vaccines can prevent most cases of cervical cancer if given before a girl or woman is exposed to the virus.

In addition, both can prevent vaginal and vulvar cancer in women, and Gardasil can prevent genital warts and anal cancer in women and men. In theory, vaccinating boys against HPV might also help protect girls from the virus by possibly decreasing transmission.

Who is the cervical cancer vaccine for and when should it be given?

The cervical cancer vaccine is recommended for girls and boys ages 11 to 12, although it can be given as early as age 9. It’s important for girls and boys to receive the vaccine before they have sexual contact and are exposed to HPV. Once infected with HPV, the vaccine might not be as effective or might not work at all. Also, response to the vaccine is better at younger ages than it is at older ages.

If the three-dose series of vaccines isn’t completed by ages 11 to 12, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that girls and women through age 26 and boys and men through age 21 receive the vaccine. However, men can receive the HPV vaccine through age 26 if desired.

Both vaccines are given as a series of three injections over a six-month period. The second dose is given one to two months after the first dose, and the third dose is given six months after the first dose.

Who should not get the cervical cancer vaccine?

The cervical cancer vaccine isn’t recommended for pregnant women or people who are moderately or severely ill. Tell your doctor if you have any severe allergies, including an allergy to yeast or latex. Also, if you’ve had a life-threatening allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine or to a previous dose of the vaccine, you shouldn’t get the vaccine.

Does the cervical cancer vaccine offer benefits if you’re already sexually active?

Yes. It’s possible that, even if you already have HPV, you could still benefit from the vaccine. However, Gardasil and Cervarix don’t treat HPV infection and only protect you from specific strains of HPV to which you haven’t been exposed.

Does the cervical cancer vaccine carry any health risks or side effects?

Overall, the effects are usually mild. The most common side effects of both HPV vaccines include soreness at the injection site (the arm), headaches and low-grade fever. Sometimes dizziness or fainting occurs after the injection. Remaining seated for 15 minutes after the injection can reduce the risk of fainting. In addition, Cervarix might also cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or abdominal pain.

The CDC and the FDA continue to monitor the vaccines for unusual or severe problems.

Is the cervical cancer vaccine required for school enrollment?

The cervical cancer vaccine — either Gardasil or Cervarix — is part of the routine childhood vaccines schedule. Whether or not a vaccine becomes a school enrollment requirement is decided on a state-by-state basis.

Do women who’ve received the cervical cancer vaccine still need to have Pap tests?

Yes. The cervical cancer vaccine isn’t intended to replace Pap tests. Routine screening for cervical cancer through regular Pap tests remains an essential part of a woman’s preventive health care.

What can you do to protect yourself from cervical cancer if you’re not in the recommended vaccine age group?

HPV spreads through sexual contact. To protect yourself from HPV, use a condom every time you have sex. In addition, don’t smoke. Smoking doubles the risk of cervical cancer.

To detect cervical cancer in the earliest stages, see your health care provider for regular Pap tests. Seek prompt medical attention if you notice any signs or symptoms of cervical cancer — vaginal bleeding after sex, between periods or after menopause, pelvic pain, or pain during sex.

Menstrual Cramps

Posted under Health Guides. Updated 5 March 2014.
Key Facts
Menstrual periods can be light and easy for some teens and young women, but for others, they can be heavy and/or accompanied by painful cramps. Cramps can be a big reason why girls are absent from school, why they miss sport practices, and why they may avoid social events with their friends.

e2adc619eaee06fe3a65c9e38df2dde5What is Dysmenorrhea?

Dysmenorrhea (pronounced: dis-men-o-ree-a) is a medical term that means “difficult or painful periods.” There are two types of dysmenorrhea, primary and secondary.

Primary dysmenorrhea is the most common kind of dysmenorrhea. Cramps (pain in the lower belly area and/or lower back) can start 1-2 days before your period comes and can last 2-4 days.

Secondary dysmenorrhea is when cramps and, for some, lower back pain are a result of a medical problem such as endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease.

What causes menstrual cramps?

Menstrual cramps are caused by uterine contractions (when your uterus tightens and relaxes allowing blood to leave your uterus). The lining of your uterus releases special chemicals called “prostaglandins.” These substances can increase the intensity of the contractions, especially if the levels rise. High levels of prostaglandins may also cause nausea and lightheadedness.

*Some or all of these problems may start a day or two before your period and can last for part or all of your period. These signs could be caused by other medical conditions and therefore it is important to discuss your symptoms to your health care provider.
Is it normal to have some mild cramps during your period?

Yes, it is normal to have mild cramps during your period because of uterine contractions. The uterus is a muscle that tightens and relaxes which can cause jabbing or cramp-like pain. However, if the discomfort is not relieved with over-the-counter medications and causes you to miss school or other daily activities, it could mean that there is another reason for your symptoms.

When you first get your period, it is common for you to be irregular, and you may not ovulate for a few months, or even for a few years. So you may not have menstrual cramps when you first begin your period. After one, two, or three years, when your hormonal system is more mature, you might have more severe menstrual cramps.

If your cramps are severe and interfere with your daily activities, don’t ignore what your body is telling you. Make an appointment with your healthcare provider, because there may be other reasons for your pain.
What other symptoms do girls have during their periods?

In addition to cramping during their periods, some girls may have other symptoms.

Symptoms may be mild to moderate and can include:

Nausea (feeling like you want to throw up)
Vomiting (throwing up)
Loose bowel movements/diarrhea
Constipation
Bloating in your belly area
Headaches
Lightheadedness (feeling faint)
Are menstrual cramps the same as PMS (Pre-Menstrual Syndrome)?

Menstrual cramps are not the same as PMS. Symptoms of PMS such as bloating, weight gain, and moodiness happen before a woman’s period begins, and get a lot better when her period starts. On the other hand, with dysmenorrhea, cramps usually get worse the first day or two of a woman’s period and have a different cause and treatment.

What medications can I take for my menstrual cramps?

If you are having menstrual cramps, talk with your parents or healthcare provider about your options. If your menstrual cramps are painful, you may think about taking some type of the over-the-counter medication for one to two days. These medications are “anti-prostaglandins.” They help relieve the discomfort, make your flow lighter, and cause your uterus to cramp less. Look for over-the-counter medications that contain ibuprofen or naproxen sodium. Take this medicine when you first start to feel uncomfortable, and continue taking it every 4-6 hours or as recommended by your healthcare provider. Since this kind of medicine can upset your stomach, you should take it with food. Make sure you read the label to see how much and how often you should take the medication. You should not take these products if you are allergic to aspirin-like medicine or have stomach problems. It is important not to take more medicine than is recommended or prescribed.

Is there anything else I can do to help my menstrual cramps?

Natural remedies such as a microwavable warm pack or a heating pad placed on your abdomen (lower belly) may help. Soaking in a warm bath may also relieve uncomfortable cramps. Some teens find that increasing their physical activity helps; others find that resting quietly for short periods of time helps.

Acupuncture is an alternative treatment that is sometimes recommended to treat dysmenorrhea. You should also eat healthy foods, drink lots of fluids, and get plenty of rest. You can try different treatments to find out what works best for you.

What if nothing helps my menstrual cramps?

If your menstrual cramps are not relieved by over-the-counter medicine, make an appointment to see your health care provider. Use a period and symptom tracker for 2-3 months and then bring it to your next medical appointment. A record of your symptoms can help your healthcare provider figure out the best treatment choices for you.

My Monthly Period & Symptom Tracker

My Monthly Period & Symptom Tracker is an easy way to keep track of your menstrual flow, and it’s also a way to keep track of cramps, and/or PMS and period symptoms (if you have them) each month.

Review the sample Monthly Period & Symptom Tracker.
Print out copies of My Monthly Period & Symptom Tracker.
Simply make a check mark in the appropriate box (or boxes) for each day of the month. If you don’t have any flow or any symptoms on any given day, leave the box empty. Refer to the Blood Flow Key at the bottom for “Flow” definitions.
The dates at the top are the same as the dates in one month. Some months have 28 days, others have 30 or 31.
Remember to bring My Monthly Period & Symptom Tracker with you to your medical appointments.
Is it okay to exercise when I have my period?

Exercising is a good way to stay fit and healthy. Some girls like to exercise when they have their period because it helps lessen their cramps. Other girls are uncomfortable exercising when they have their period. You should find what works best for you. Talk to your coach or gym teacher if exercising is uncomfortable during your period.

Remember, if cramps or other symptoms cause you to miss school or other activities and over-the-counter medicine and other comfort measures don’t help, you should make an appointment with your health care provider.