For women age 30 and older, Pap and HPV co-testing is less likely to miss an abnormality (i.e., has a lower false-negative rate) than Pap testing alone. Therefore, a woman with a negative HPV test and normal Pap test has very little risk of a serious abnormality developing over the next several years. In fact, researchers have found that, when Pap and HPV cotesting is used, lengthening the screening interval to 5 years still allows abnormalities to be detected in time to treat them while also reducing the detection of HPV infections that would have gone away on their own.
The HPV vaccines stimulate the body’s immune system. The body produces antibodies to certain HPV types, the same as if a person really had the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Cancer Society recommend that all girls ages 11 to 12 get vaccinated. Girls and young women between the ages of 13 and 26 can get vaccinated too. The vaccines are not approved for women over 26 or recommended for pregnant women.
The vaccines do not treat an existing infection. Since most people who are sexually active will be infected by HPV, it works best to vaccinate young girls before they become sexually active. This enables them to develop protection against the HPV types prevented by the vaccines. There is no treatment for an HPV infection. The vaccines are for prevention only.