HPV Vaccine/Cervical Cancer
(Source: National Cancer Institute / NIH) Cervical cancer is caused by several types of a virus called human papillomaviruses (HPV). The virus spreads through sexual contact. Most women's bodies are able to fight HPV infection. But sometimes the virus leads to cancer. You are at higher risk if you smoke, have many children, use birth control pills for a long time, or have HIV infection.
Symptoms of cervical cancer
Cervical cancer may not cause any symptoms at first, but later, you may have pelvic pain or bleeding from the vagina. It usually takes several years for normal cells in the cervix to turn into cancer cells. Your health care provider can find abnormal cells by doing a Pap test - examining cells from the cervix under a microscope. By getting regular Pap tests and pelvic exams you can find and treat changing cells before they turn into cancer.
A vaccine for girls and young women protects against the four types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers. The HPV vaccine protects against infection by certain strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV) that can cause cervical cancer and genital warts. Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV. HPV vaccination is expected to prevent about 70% of cervical cancer cases.
Source: NIH: National Cancer Institute
(Source: CDC) HPV vaccines are given as a series of three shots over 6 months to protect against HPV infection and the health problems that HPV infection can cause. Two vaccines (Cervarix and Gardasil) protect against cervical cancers in women. One vaccine (Gardasil) also protects against genital warts and cancers of the anus, vagina and vulva. Both vaccines are available for females. Only Gardasil is available for males.
HPV vaccines offer the best protection to girls and boys who receive all three vaccine doses and have time to develop an immune response before being sexually active with another person. That's why HPV vaccination is recommended for preteen girls and boys at age 11 or 12 years.
Who else should get the HPV vaccine?
In addition to girls and boys aged 11 or 12 years, HPV vaccines are also recommended for teen boys and girls who did not get the vaccine when they were younger, teen girls and young women through age 26, as well as teen boys and young men through age 21.
The vaccine is also recommended for gay and bisexual men (or any man who has sex with a man). It is also recommended for men and women with compromised immune systems (including people living with HIV/AIDS) through age 26, if they did not get fully vaccinated when they were younger.
Key Point 1
There are certain types of human papillomavirus that are spread through sexual contact, and can lead to cervical cancer. There is a vaccine for HPV, but it is only effective in 70% of cases.
Key Point 2
As with any medical decision, open and honest communication between you (the patient) and your healthcare provider is critical to making decisions that are right for you. Healthcare is a partnership, and patients need to get all the information they want and need before making a decision.
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