This shot could help you live longer.

No, seriously! It can! It’s not a needle full of water from the fountain of youth, and no we aren’t trying to sell you a miracle berry injection. We are talking about the vaccine for the human papillomavirus (HPV)—the leading cause of cervical cancer. Since January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, we want you to focus on just how virtually preventable cervical cancer is.

What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is a disease where cells in the cervix, the lower, narrow end of the uterus, grow out of control.

What is HPV?

HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus and it is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. HPV is also asymptomatic, which means you won’t be able to tell if you have it. It is important to remember, however, that different types of HPV can cause different outcomes, and while the outcome isn’t always cervical cancer, it can be uncomfortable things like genital or skin warts! For most people, HPV goes away all by itself, but please don’t assume it will. 

Exactly how common are HPV and its related health problems?

Here are some statistics from the CDC:

HPV (the virus): About 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. About 14 million people become newly infected each year. HPV is so common that almost every person who is sexually-active will get HPV at some time in their life if they don’t get the HPV vaccine.

Genital warts: Before HPV vaccines were introduced, roughly 340,000 to 360,000 women and men were affected by genital warts caused by HPV every year. *Also, about one in 100 sexually active adults in the U.S. has genital warts at any given time.

Cervical cancer: Every year, nearly 12,000 women living in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cervical cancer, and more than 4,000 women die from cervical cancer—even with screening and treatment.

There are other conditions and cancers caused by HPV that occur in people living in the United States. Every year, approximately 19,400 women and 12,100 men are affected by cancers caused by HPV.

Does this mean I am at risk for cervical cancer?