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HPV Vaccine - The Cancer Prevention Vaccine

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HPV Vaccine - The Cancer Prevention Vaccine

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection with more than 3 million cases in the U.S. each year.

The CDC reports that 85% of people will get an HPV infection in their lifetime and almost every unvaccinated person who is sexually active will get the HPV infection. HPV can cause genital warts and cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus and the back of the throat.

No one knows why HPV will cause health problems in some people and not others and there is no cure for it. However, the HPV vaccine provides safe, effective and long-lasting protection against cancers that are caused by HPV and HPV vaccines have reduced infections and cervical pre-cancers since 2006, when they were first used.

Amy Middleman, M.D., is chief of adolescent medicine at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital OU Health. She answers some common questions about the HPV vaccine.

Q&A with Dr. Amy Middleman

Why is the HPV vaccine so important?

Statistics from the CDC show that it’s estimated that over 36,000 cases of cancer are caused by HPV each year and the vaccine can prevent almost 34,000 of the cancers by preventing the infections that cause them. The HPV vaccine is cancer prevention and this type of primary prevention is safest for people.

What does the vaccine do?

HPV vaccines work by stimulating the body to produce antibodies so that in future encounters with HPV, they will bind to the virus and prevent it from infecting cells. This means that the vaccine protects individuals against infection from the specific HPV types that are in the vaccine.

Which HPV vaccines are recommended?

Gardasil 9 is the only HPV vaccine currently available in the U.S. The recommended Gardasil schedule for healthy adolescents is:

  • If under the age of 15 you will need two shots
  • If over the age of 15 you will need three shots

Who should be taking them and at what age?

HPV vaccine is approved for boys, girls, men and women from the ages of 9 to 45, but the recommendation is that the vaccines should be received routinely for all up to the age of 26. The earlier the vaccine schedule is completed the better, as most adults from 27-45 have already been exposed to HPV. The vaccine does not treat HPV — it is preventative.

If the HPV vaccine schedule is completed prior to first sexual contact, the chances of getting cancer and genital warts caused by HPV are reduced by up 90%.

Why should males be getting the HPV vaccine?

HPV is thought to cause about 70% of oropharyngeal cancers in the U.S. and this has now surpassed cervical cancer as the leading cause of deaths from HPV related cancers. 80% of those diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer are men, yet many men remain unvaccinated against HPV.

HPV vaccine is recommended for boys as it can help prevent HPV-infections that can lead to genital warts and cancers of the throat and mouth, anus and penis. HPV is spread without people even knowing they have it, so it’s of the utmost importance that both boys and girls are vaccinated against it.

Why are there still some groups of people not vaccinating against HPV when we know it’s safe and effective?

One of the reasons is that there has been a lot of vaccine misinformation and hesitancy published on social media. Another reason is that people don’t realize how common HPV infection is and how it can lead to cancer.

What advice would you give to parents of young girls and boys who are HPV vaccine-hesitant?

There have been over 135 million doses of the HPV vaccine distributed in the U.S., and over 15 years of monitoring and research into the safety and efficacy. The CDC and FDA monitor the safety of vaccines and ongoing monitoring shows that there are no serious side effects associated with the vaccine.

Every vaccine has a small risk and with the HPV vaccine the most common side effects include pain at site of vaccination, dizziness or fainting, nausea, headache, tiredness, muscle or joint pain. Adverse reactions are rare and from 2015-2018 reports of health issues following the HPV vaccine decreased overall.

The statistics show us that the HPV vaccine works and that it’s highly effective. In fact, vaccinated people who were monitored for approximately 12 years showed that the protection against HPV continues.

Once you have acquired the disease it is too late for the vaccine. It is critical to vaccinate when people are young — before exposure to the virus.

Call (405) 271-1112 to schedule your vaccine appointment or wellness check-up, and learn more about STD/cancer preventative services at OU Health.