Bayhealth Medical Center
HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a common virus that can go away on its own like many other viruses. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 80 percent of people will get an HPV infection in their lifetime. HPV infections that don’t go away can lead to six types of cancers. Families have the power to reduce the spread of HPV and prevent cancer by getting the HPV vaccine, which is the only vaccine approved to prevent cancer.
HPV can cause six different types of cancer – cervical, penile, vulvar, vaginal, anal, and oropharyngeal. Of these cancers, cervical cancer is the only one with a recommended screening test. This means the other five cancers may not be detected until they cause health problems. The HPV vaccine is recommended beginning at age 11 to 12 and up to age 45. The vaccine is given as a two-dose series before the age of 15; it’s a three-shot series after. “People can be exposed to the virus and not know it,” said Bayhealth Primary Care Physician John Fink, MD. “We understand families may be uncomfortable talking about the vaccine for children as young as 11 or 12, but the vaccine is more effective when given earlier in life.”
For several years, there were concerns regarding the safety of the vaccine, but Dr. Fink said research and monitoring of the vaccine have shown the HPV immunization is very safe. Studies have also reiterated the effectiveness of the vaccine; more than 90 percent of HPV cancers are preventable through HPV vaccination.
Traditionally the vaccine has been geared toward teens and young adults, especially girls and young women. The vaccine was given to boys, but more so as a way to reduce the spread of HPV; however, it’s become clear in recent years how important the vaccine is to boys and men. “Cervical cancer rates are decreasing, but the number of head and neck cancers are increasing in men. This shows us it’s important boys are given the vaccine so these cancers can be prevented later in life when they’re men,” Dr. Fink said.
Previously, the vaccine was only available for people 11 to 26 years old, but the recommended age has been increased to age 45. If an adult hasn’t been given the HPV vaccination, they’re encouraged to do so. Even though the age limit has increased, getting the vaccine as early as possible is still recommended. “Studies show the vaccine is more effective if received before the age of 26 and really as early in life as possible. Your child may not be sexually active at age 11, but getting the shot then increases the effectiveness rather than waiting until the time they are active,” Dr. Fink said.
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