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Reduce Your Risk

Your lifestyle helps contribute to your overall health. Here are a few ways to reduce your risk and ensure you’re doing everything you can to protect your cervical health.

  • Get vaccinated. If you’re between the ages of 9 and 45, you can get vaccinated against HPV.
  • Get screened regularly. If you’re 21 and over, have ever been sexually active and you have a cervix, then you need to get a Pap test every three years.
  • Does your partner (or partners) have a cervix? If so, encourage them to get screened too! You can reduce your risk of getting HPV by practicing safer sex.
  • Practice safer sex! Use condoms on shared sex toys and penises. While condoms help to reduce your risk of HPV, no genital sexual activity is risk free.
  • Use dental dams for oral sex and latex gloves for sex with hands. Lubrication also reduces risk by helping to prevent small cuts and tears, which make HPV and other sexually transmitted infections more easily transmittable.
  • Clean your sex toys after use.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink to one drink or less per day. If you can, avoid alcohol altogether.
  • If you smoke, try to quit.

HPV vaccines

One way to protect yourself from HPV is by getting vaccinated. There are two HPV vaccines available in Canada: Gardasil and Cervarix. Both vaccines protect against HPV-16 and HPV-18 the two strains that account for 70% of cervical cancers and precancerous cervical cell changes. However, Gardasil also protects against 90% of genital and anal warts, anal cancers, vulva and vaginal cancers and some oral cancers. Gardasil has also been tested for use on males, whereas Cervarix has not.

How do the HPV vaccines work?

The vaccines work by stimulating the body to produce antibodies against the types of HPV they target. Antibodies prevent HPV infections and therefore the diseases associated with these HPV types. The vaccines are preventative and do not treat HPV.

The vaccine is most effective when given to young people before they are sexually active. This is because the vaccine is only effective for HPV strains that you haven’t been exposed to yet. So while you can get vaccinated after you have been sexually active, you likely won’t be protected from some strains of HPV.

Who can get the vaccine?

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends that the HPV vaccine can be given to:

  • females between the ages of 9-26, and is most effective before sexual activity
  • for females aged 27 45, the effectiveness of Gardasil hasn’t been tested yet but there is some evidence about its efficacy for this age range

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization approves Gardasil for boys and young men to prevent anal cancer, precancerous cells and anogenital warts. For more information, visit

Ontario does not currently have a voluntary school-based HPV vaccination program for boys.

How do I get the vaccine? How is it administered?

Gardasil and Cervarix are given by an injection into an arm muscle. Doses are administered 3 times over a 6-month period.

You can get the vaccine by:

  • Participating in the Ontario-wide program for young women between grades 8 - 12. Public health units visit local high schools and set up immunization clinics. Parental consent is needed.
  • By visiting your family doctor.

Talk to your healthcare provider about the HPV vaccine and what’s right for you.

How much does it cost?

The vaccination is free of charge for young women between grades 8 and 12 through a voluntary Ontario-wide program.

For women who cannot participate in the free program, the vaccine costs $475 in total. Most private insurance does not cover the HPV vaccine.

Do I still have to get Pap test if I get vaccinated against HPV?

Yes. Even if you are vaccinated against HPV, you still need to have a Pap test regularly. The vaccines prevent infection from HPV types associated with only 70% of cervical cancer. About 30% of cervical cancers will not be prevented by the vaccines. The HPV vaccine should be used along with, not instead of, cervical cancer screening.

More information on the HPV vaccine can be found here.