There is an HPV vaccine available. Here’s why you or your child should get it.
HPV, short for Human Papillomavirus, is a group of over 150 related viruses that can be sexually transmitted. These viruses cause infections that lead to conditions ranging from genital warts to cervical, vulvar, vaginal, penile, anal and oropharyngeal cancers. The group of viruses has now been linked to 30,000 new cases of cancer yearly in the United States alone. HPV infection is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States and is dangerous because of how easily it spreads. Genital HPV often shows no signs or symptoms and thus carriers unknowingly pass it along. Nearly all sexually active individuals will have an HPV infection at some point during their lives. In addition, a staggering ninety-nine percent of cervical cancer originates from HPV infection.
While the immune system is typically capable of recognizing and destroying the cells infected by HPV, when they are not destroyed, mutations can lead to cancerous cells and later develop into tumors. These mutant cells are termed “pre-cancer” and can take years to develop into cancer. Yearly cervical screenings allow us to detect these mutated cells early on and treat them before they become cancer.
Just over ten years ago, a vaccine that prevents against the most threatening types of HPV was developed. Now we are calling on you to help us increase vaccination rates so that we can put an end to preventable cancer.
Who should get the vaccine?
Ideally, the vaccine should be given to male and female children aged between 11-12 years. The U.S. National Cancer Institute endorses the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) recommendation that children aged 9-14 should receive a 2-dose 9-valent vaccine series, with the second dose administered between one-half to one year following the first. It is not necessary to start over if more than the recommended amount of time has passed since the first administered dose, but the next dose should be given as soon as possible. Between the ages of 15 years and 26 years, a 3-dose series is recommended. It is important to complete all recommended doses when possible, up to the age of 26 years.
If you have already had sex, you should still get the vaccine if you haven’t already and are 26 or younger. While you may already be infected with one or more forms of HPV, the vaccine can protect you against other, potentially more dangerous forms.
But my child is not having sex?
The HPV vaccine isn’t a discussion about sexual behavior in adolescents. It is about taking the right measures to prevent cancer. The vaccine is most effective in young adolescents because their bodies still have years to develop immunity before they become sexually active and are exposed to HPV. Another reason to start early is that the HPV vaccine requires two separate doses for children under 15, and increases to three doses after.
Are there side effects?
Millions have been vaccinated to date and there have been no severe side effects reported. Minor side effects include soreness and redness at the site of administration.
What else can I do to protect myself?
Even if you are vaccinated, you should take measures to protect yourself against sexually transmitted infections like the HPV infection. You can limit your number of sexual partners and use a condom when engaging in all forms of sex. You should be aware that condoms do not cover all infected areas of skin and HPV can still be passed through contact of the uncovered infected areas. Genital HPV infection can occur even if you do not have sexual intercourse. The HPV vaccine only prevents against future HPV infections but will not cure an existing one. Vaccinated women should continue to have regular cervical cancer screenings that are recommended for their age group and health history.
The latest CDC statistics show that in the United States in 2015 just 42 percent of adolescent girls and 28 percent of adolescent boys had received the full recommended course of the HPV vaccine. We now have discovered a way to potentially save thousands of lives and protect millions of people, especially women, from cancer with the HPV vaccine, but not nearly enough people are vaccinated. No one would hesitate to get a vaccine that would prevent breast cancer if it was offered! Unlike many other cancers, we can fight those caused by HPV. Let’s raise awareness and make HPV vaccination as highly discussed as breast cancer and as universally adopted as the flu shot. Getting vaccinated can save your or your loved one’s life.
El Camino Women’s Medical Group offers the latest Minimally Invasive Solutions for gynecologic problems. Drs. Amy Teng, Erika Balassiano, and Pooja Gupta, all members of AAGL (American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopy) are highly trained and experienced in the field of Minimally Invasive Gynecgologic Surgery. Dr. Erika Balassiano is also a graduate of the Minimally Invasive Gynecologic Surgery Fellowship at Stanford University, under the supervision of world-renowned Dr. Camran Nezhat.
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