Importance of HPV Vaccinations

Organization: Author:
Kristine Penner, M.D., medical director, Gynecologic Oncology Program, MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute

Nearly 79 million Americans are infected with some type of the human papillomavirus (HPV) with 14 million new cases expected each year. HPV is a group of related viruses. Most of the time, HPV infections go away on their own, while others can cause genital warts or cancer.

HPV infections can cause cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, anus and back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils. It causes more than 30,000 cancers in men and women in the United States each year. People contract the disease from skin-to-skin contact, most commonly during vaginal or oral sex. HPV can be passed even when someone with the virus doesn’t have any symptoms.

Thankfully, cervical cancer screenings can help find cervical cancer at an early stage, so it can be treated in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, because there are no routine screening tests for other HPV-related cancers, other cancers caused by HPV are often hard to detect because they don’t usually have symptoms until they are at an advanced stage. Thus, the HPV vaccination is the best defense against all cancers caused by HPV.

Clinical trials have shown that the HPV vaccination (two or three shots depending on age) provides nearly 100 percent protection against cervical cancers and genital warts. Even if the vaccination series has not been completed in the recommended time frame, all shots should be completed.

For the HPV vaccination to be most effective, it should be given prior to HPV exposure. It is recommended that pre-teens should be vaccinated prior to sexual activity. All girls and boys should get the HPV vaccination.

Typically, the series starts at 11 or 12-years-old. In some cases, the series can be started as early as 9-years-old. The HPV vaccination also is recommended for women through age 26 and men through 21. Men should be vaccinated through age 26 if they are immunocompromised, transgender or if they have or intend to have sex with other men.

While it may be uncomfortable to think about a pre-teen or teenager having sex, it is important to protect them against potential infections, viruses and cancers they may be exposed to when they become sexually active.

By receiving the HPV vaccination, you can ensure your child will be protected before they even become sexually active. It’s also important to encourage young adults to initiate and complete the HPV vaccination series, whether or not they have already become sexually active. In addition, all women should undergo cervical cancer screening, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated for HPV.

If you or your children meet the above criteria, you can schedule an appointment for the HPV vaccination with a pediatrician or primary care physician, or you can schedule it with the Vaccine Hub at Long Beach Medical Center. Call (562) 933-0298 to schedule you or your child’s first HPV vaccination at the Vaccine Hub.

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