Ronny Young, MD
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. There are over 100 different types of HPV and approximately 40 types are primarily transmitted sexually. There are approximately 14 HPV types that are known to cause cervical cancer. Two types, HPV 16 and 18, are the cause of approximately 70% of all cases of cervical cancer.
In the United States, more than 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year and nearly 4,000 die from the disease each year.
Getting the HPV vaccine can significantly lower the chance of cervical cancer as well as vaginal, vulvar, anal and some oropharyngeal cancers. The newest HPV vaccine, Gardasil 9, provides protection against 7 HPV types (including HPV 16 and 18) that cause cancer as well as two HPV types (HPV 6 and 11) that cause most cases of genital warts. Currently it is the only vaccine that is available for use.
The best time to get the vaccine for girls is at age 11 or 12 years, but it can be given as early as 9 years and indicated up to age 26. The vaccine is recommend for young boys as well. The vaccine is recommended at a young age because it is most effective before the onset of sexual activity and there is a higher antibody response when given to children 11-12 years of age. Studies have shown that getting the HPV vaccine does not increase sexual activity among teenagers. Even if your child does not plan to become sexually active until they are married, the vaccine would still be beneficial if she married someone who has been sexually active in the past and it could also give her protection if she was ever assaulted.
The CDC now recommends two doses of HPV vaccine for persons starting the vaccination series before the 15th birthday. It is given as an initial dose followed by a second dose 1-2 months later. For those beginning the vaccination series after their 15th birthday, a 3rd dose is given 6 months after the first dose. The vaccine is usually free under health insurance plans.
Weighing the risk of a treatment, including a vaccine is always important. Before getting any vaccine, you should read the Vaccine Information Sheet (VIS) that the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) provides (link below). The HPV vaccine is composed of a protein that resides on the surface of the virus, not the virus itself. The vaccine went through years of extensive testing before it was approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Since it’s introduction, it has been given to more than 57 million men and women and the CDC, which continues to monitor its use, considers it to be a very safe vaccine.
Serious side effects from the vaccine have been extremely rare (about 1 in a million doses). Non-serious side effects may include headache, nausea, dizziness, and low grade fever. Unfortunately, pain and redness at the injection site is very common.
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