While there is no vaccine that prevents all types of cancer, there is one that prevents nearly all forms of cervical cancer—an HPV immunization. Learn the facts about the human papillomavirus vaccine, why and who should get the HPV shot, vaccine types and its problems and side effects.
What is the HPV Vaccine?
HPV stands for human papillomavirus. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. In fact, most people get it at some point in their lives. The HPV vaccine prevents these infections. It was approved by the FDA in 2006, so has only recently been recommended as a regular preventative health measure.
Why the HPV Vaccine is Important
Good news is that many people never show signs or symptoms of HPV and in 90% of cases, HPV goes away on its own with no treatment. But when it doesn’t go away, HPV can cause serious (even deadly) health problems.
HPV-related cancers include cervical cancer, oropharyngeal cancer, and cancer of the penis, vulva, vagina, and anus. HPV can also cause genital warts.
Like the hepatitis vaccine that helps prevent liver cancer, the HPV vaccine is an incredibly effective preventative measure. When administered before virus exposure, the HPV vaccine prevents cervical cancer in 97% of patients and prevents genital warts in 100% of patients. In the 10 years since the vaccine’s introduction in 2006, infections have dropped by 86% in females aged 14-19 and by 71% in women in their early 20s.
Who Should Get an HPV Vaccine?
Although the HPV vaccine is most often associated with cervical cancer, both males and females should receive the vaccine. The CDC recommends vaccination between the ages of 11 and 12, though children can receive it as young as 9 and adults as old as 26.
Vaccines are not recommended for those older than 26 since most adults above this age have already been exposed to HPV. If you believe you have a high risk for developing a new infection, though, speak to your doctor about the benefits of the vaccine. You might be at higher risk if you have a new sex partner or are newly entering the dating scene.
If you are pregnant or allergic to any of the vaccine ingredients (such as yeast) or have had an allergic reaction to a previous dose, you should not receive an HPV vaccine.
HPV Vaccine Types
Since its introduction, the FDA has approved three HPV vaccinations—Cervarix (2vHPV), Gardasil (4vHPV), and Gardisil-9 (9vHPV). The newer HPV vaccine Gardisil-9 is the only one being currently distributed in the United States. It protects against 9 strains of HPV—6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58.
Scientists are also researching a possible HPV therapeutic vaccine, a vaccine that treats already existing cases, but as of 2023, no drugs have cleared trials or been approved.
HPV Vaccine Problems
There are few serious side effects or risks of an HPV vaccine. They include pain in the arm where the shot was given, dizziness, fainting, fever, headache, nausea, tiredness, joint or muscle pain. In very rare cases, some people can have an allergic reaction and go into anaphylactic shock, which is life-threatening.
Except in rare cases, if you’re between the ages of 11 and 26, you (or your guardian) should consider an HPV vaccine. For those older than 26 at high risk, speak to your doctor.
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No matter your vaccination status, be sure to stay updated on your cancer screenings. Pap smears detect the presence of the virus and precancerous or cancerous cells in the cervix that may lead to cervical cancer. These screenings should be done annually by anyone with a cervix over the age of 21. If you notice any abnormal changes to your body, like bumps, lesions, or warts, always speak to a doctor.
If you fall within the recommended guidelines, almost all insurances, including Medicaid, cover preventative vaccines like the HPV vaccine. There are also many state and non-profit programs that help administer vaccines to those who are uninsured or under-insured.
Need help getting an HPV vaccine? Contact us today for local resources in Queens, NY and the surrounding New York City metro area. We can help point you towards free and low-cost options if you are struggling with healthcare costs.
- What I Tell Every Patient About the HPV Vaccine, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Prophylactic and Therapeutic HPV Vaccines: Current Scenario and Perspectives, Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, 2022
- Genital HPV Infection – Basic Fact Sheet, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- What Are the Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer?, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- HPV Vaccine Safety and Effectiveness, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)