HPV and the HPV Vaccine
One of the topics we cover in our Cancer Happens ® classroom presentation is how important it is to get the HPV vaccine. In speaking with teens and preteens over the years, we discovered that there’s a lot of confusion around this topic. So here in this blog, let’s see if we can clear up some of the confusion around HPV and talk about how easy it is to get the HPV vaccine, known to significantly reduce one’s risk of cancers caused by this virus.
What is HPV and how is it transmitted?
HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus. HPV is a common virus, with over 150 different strains of HPVs. They’re often classified as “low-risk” and “high-risk” HPVs. Some of the low-risk HPVs cause benign warts on or around the genitals, anus, mouth or throat and rarely lead to cancer. In contrast, high-risk HPVs are associated with elevated risk for cancer and can cause cervical cancer, oropharyngeal cancer, anal cancer, penile cancer, vaginal cancer, and vulvar cancer. Vaginal intercourse, anal sex, oral sex and other intimate skin-to-skin contact are all possible routes for HPV transmission. (source)
How common is HPV infection?
HPV infection is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the US. In fact, most sexually active people will get at least one type of HPV in their lifetime and not even know it since their immune system is able to clear most HPV infections. However, there are some high-risk HPV infections that fail to clear resulting in cellular changes that, if allowed to persist, can result in cancer.
It’s important to keep in mind that nearly all cases of cervical cancers are caused by infection with high-risk HPV, but most women don’t experience any symptoms with early cervical cancer. For this reason, it’s important for women ages 21-65 to follow their doctor’s guidance on having Pap tests to catch any disease progression as early as possible.
Is there a way to prevent HPV infection?
With the HPV vaccine (Gardasil 9®), it is possible to protect oneself against any new infections by nine HPV types: two low-risk HPV types that cause most genital warts and seven high-risk HPV types that cause HPV-related cancers.
The best time to get the HPV vaccine is before one is exposed to the human papillomavirus. The HPV vaccine is recommended for preteen girls and boys at age 11 or 12 years and the series can be started at age 9. Two doses are required for children who start the vaccine before age 15 and three doses are needed for those receiving their first dose at age 15 through 26 years. For adults over than age 26, it’s best to consult with their doctor about how much benefit can be gained from the vaccine. (source).