By Z. Colette Edwards, M.D.
Q. I keep hearing about the HPV vaccine and wonder if it’s the right thing for my pre-teen daughter. What is the purpose of the vaccine? Should boys also receive it?
The human papilloma virus (HPV) has been identified as a major cause of cervical cancer in women and as a cause of genital warts in both women and men. As many as 80 percent of the population will be affected by HPV in their lifetimes, and approximately 20 million Americans are currently infected, with another six million infected each year. At least 50 percent of sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives – about 1 percent of sexually active adults in the U.S. have genital warts at any one time.
In most people the infection clears and some may never even have symptoms. Unfortunately, it is not possible at this time to know who will go on to develop genital warts – or cervical cancer. Each year, about 12,000 women get cervical cancer in the U.S. Almost all of these cancers are HPV-associated.
Two HPV vaccines – Cervarix and Gardasil – developed to prevent the virus, have been licensed in the U.S. over the last few years. Cervarix helps protect against two types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. Gardasil protects against four types of HPV. In females, Gardisil can help prevent up to 75 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of cases of genital warts. For males, it helps protect against up to 90 percent of genital warts.
It’s important to keep in mind that neither of these vaccines treat cervical cancer or genital warts. That’s why they are recommended before a young person becomes sexually active. Many health care providers recommend vaccination – which consists of three injections over the course of six months – as early as age 9.
The most important thing is to develop a good relationship with your health care provider and encourage your children to do the same. Ask questions, and become your – and your family’s – advocate.
The foregoing information is provided solely for informational purposes and is not intended as medical or other professional advice. No representation or warranty of any kind is made in connection with the content. No one should take any action based on the information without first consulting their health care professional.