HPV is a group of very common viruses — there are more than 100 types of HPV — it’s actually the most common STD. This means that most people who are sexually active will get HPV at some point in their lives.
At least 14 types of HPV are high-risk types, meaning they can cause cancer. Cervical cancer is the most common disease related to HPV, and nearly all cases of cervical cancer can be attributed to HPV. Notably, this is also the first cancer in women that’s been shown to be caused nearly exclusively by a virus. Two high-risk types of HPV – types 16 and 18 – cause 70% of cervical cancer and pre-cancerous cervical lesions.
More about the HPV vaccine
Fortunately, there is an HPV vaccine that works to target and prevent certain types of HPV that could lead to cancer — including cervical, vaginal, vulvar, anal, penile, oralpharyngeal, other head and neck cancers — and genital warts. Just what does this mean for prevention and minimizing the risk of infection in individuals and across the broader population? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Every year in the United States, HPV causes 33,700 cancers in men and women. HPV vaccination can prevent most of the cancers (about 31,200) from ever developing.” So the HPV vaccine means less cancer.
Gardasil 9 is the name of the HPV vaccine available for use in the U.S., and it prevents infection with HPV types 16 and 18 (which, as mentioned above, can cause cervical cancer and other cancers), types 6 and 11 (which can cause genital warts), and types 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58 (which can also cause cervical cancer and other cancers). Like other vaccines, the HPV vaccine causes the body to produce antibodies that will bind to the HPV virus and prevent it from infecting cells if those antibodies encounter the virus in the future. The vaccine is extremely effective in providing protection against persistent cervical HPV infections that can lead to cervical cancer, other types of cancer caused by HPV, and genital warts.
Who should get the vaccine?
Currently, the CDC recommends all children who are 11 or 12 years old get the vaccine so they are vaccinated before they are sexually active and potentially exposed to HPV. It is also recommended for people up to 26 years of age who were not adequately vaccinated when they were younger.
In addition, healthcare providers should welcome conversations about vaccination with patients aged 26-45. HPV vaccination is not currently recommended in pregnancy.
What does this mean for you?
In all of these cases, the name of the game is prevention. If you haven’t gotten this vaccination, you should definitely talk to your healthcare provider to learn more about it. Even if you’ve been exposed to some types of HPV, there are a lot of different strains, so the vaccination may be helpful in protecting you against those types you haven’t yet been exposed to.
Vaccination, along with screening tests (like HPV tests and Pap tests) and safe sex practices (like using condoms and dental dams), can all help work to prevent the spread of HPV. Even though it’s a common virus, vaccination now can help protect you from cancer later in life, which is no small matter.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
- Committee on Adolescent Health Care Immunization Expert Work Group. “Committee Opinion Number 704: Human Papillomavirus Vaccination.” American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, June 2017. Retrieved March 5 2019. https://www.acog.org/Clinical-Guidance-and-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Adolescent-Health-Care/Human-Papillomavirus-Vaccination.
- “HPV Vaccines: Vaccinating Your Preteen or Teen.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, August 23 2018. Retrieved March 5 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/vaccine.html.
- “Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Questions and Answers.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, August 23 2018. Retrieved March 5 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/questions-answers.html.
- “Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccines.” National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, May 16 2018. Retrieved March 5 2019. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/infectious-agents/hpv-vaccine-fact-sheet.
- “Human Papillomavirus Vaccines.” National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, May 16 2018. Retrieved March 5 2019. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/infectious-agents/hpv-vaccine-fact-sheet.
- “Practice Advisory: FDA Approval of 9-valent HPV Vaccine for Use in Women and Men Age 27-45.” American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Retrieved March 5 2019. https://www.acog.org/Clinical-Guidance-and-Publications/Practice-Advisories/Practice-Advisory-FDA-Approval-of-9-valent-HPV-Vaccine-for-Use-in-Women-and-Men-Age-27-to-45.
- “Should I get the HPV vaccine?” Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc. Retrieved March 5 2019. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/stds-hiv-safer-sex/hpv/should-i-get-hpv-vaccine.