Who Should Get the HPV Vaccination and Why
Article date: January 12, 2016
By Stacy Simon
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the US according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s so common that nearly all sexually active men and women will have it at some point in their lives. In most cases, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. But when HPV does not go away, it can cause genital warts and cancer. Almost all cervical cancer is caused by HPV. The virus has also been linked to cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and throat.
HPV vaccination for pre-teen and teen girls
HPV vaccines prevent infection by certain types of the virus, but they work best if they are given before an infection occurs. This is why the American Cancer Society recommends it for girls ages 11 to 12 – because most girls at this age have not yet become sexually active. This is also an age when girls still will be seeing their doctor regularly and getting other vaccinations.
The HPV vaccines Cervarix, Gardasil, and Gardasil 9 prevent the 2 types of HPV that cause 70% of all cervical cancers and pre-cancers, as well as many cancers of the vulva, vagina, anus, and throat. Gardasil also helps prevent infection by the 2 types of HPV that cause 90% of all genital warts. Gardasil 9 was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2014. It helps prevent infection with the same 4 types of HPV as Gardasil, plus 5 other types that can cause cancer. The vaccines are given as shots in a series of 3 doses within 6 months.
Despite the power of HPV vaccination to prevent cervical cancer, only about 1/3 of adolescent girls have completed a 3-dose series. The CDC reports that vaccination rates increased between 2013 and 2014, but still remain unacceptably low.
The President’s Cancer Panel calls increasing the rate of HPV vaccinations one of the most profound opportunities in cancer prevention today. In a report, the panel names missed opportunities during health care visits as the most important reason for the low vaccination rates. The report says most 11- and 12-year-old girls eligible for the vaccines may not be receiving them at doctor visits in which they receive other vaccines. The report calls for health care providers to strongly recommend the vaccine during office visits.
Should boys get the HPV vaccine?
The American Cancer Society is reviewing the scientific evidence and will publish updated recommendations in the spring of 2016 that address the use of HPV vaccines for boys.
The CDC recommends the vaccine for both boys and girls ages 11 and 12, and for boys and young men ages 13 through 21 and girls and young women ages 13 to 26 who have not already had all 3 shots. Vaccinations may also be given to children as young as 9 and to men between the ages of 22 and 26.
Reviewed by: Members of the ACS Medical Content Staff
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