HPV vaccination is recommended prior to exposure to the human papillomavirus virus to substantially lower the risk of HPV.
There are over 120 strains of human papilloma virus, and approximately 30 of the strains are associated with genital infections. Out of these, 12 of the virus strains cause genital warts while 15 can lead to cancer of the anus, cervix, vulva, vagina and penis. HPV has even been linked to head and neck cancer.
When HPV invades cervical cells, the immune system is typically able to destroy the virus before damage occurs, but, sometimes, HPV causes abnormal precancerous changes in cervical tissue. Over time, this abnormal tissue can turn into cervical cancer.
The HPV virus affects both men and women and is spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact including vaginal, anal or oral sex. An estimated three out of four people who have sex will have a genital HPV infection in their lifetime.
The HPV Vaccination
The HPV Vaccination plays an important role in preventing cervical cancer and reducing the risk of genital warts. The vaccine is administered in three doses over a 6-month period, and it is important to complete the entire series to achieve maximum protection. The most common side effect is soreness at the injection site.
The vaccine is recommended for both boys and girls 11 to 12 years of age, but may be given to children starting at age 9. For females who miss the target vaccination period, the HPV vaccination may be given between the ages of 13 to 26. Males can receive the vaccine through 21 years of age.
Effectiveness of the HPV Vaccination
The vaccination is most effective when given before exposure to the HPV virus, but studies show, the vaccine is also valuable to individuals who have already initiated sexual activity.
There are currently two types of vaccines approved by the FDA for protection against HPV:
- Gardasil® – Protects against HPV 6 and 11, two strains of HPV linked to genital warts; and HPV 16 and 18, strains that cause cervical cancer.
- Cervarix® – Protects against HPV strains 16 and 18.
Both HPV vaccines have been shown to decrease the risk of cervical tissue changes by more than 99 percent. Talk with your gynecologist to determine which vaccine is appropriate for you.
HPV Vaccination Safety
The vaccines do not contain live viruses, so cannot cause HPV. Both Gardasil and Cervarix are considered safe and effective.