Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Posted by: Jody Lindwall, CNM, MSN
Since the HPV vaccine hit the market in 2006, I’ve noticed a lot of young women are hesitant to get it. The common questions I hear are: “What is HPV?” “What is my real risk of getting cervical cancer?” and “Is the vaccine safe?” I also counsel mothers who are debating whether to give the vaccine to their young daughters. They usually ask, “Is it really necessary to give my daughter the vaccine at age 11?” Most parents feel uncomfortable giving their daughters a vaccine to prevent a sexually transmitted virus when their daughters are nowhere near becoming sexually active, or so they hope.
Human Papilloma Virus
Here are the facts. HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) is a virus that causes warts. It is transmitted through skin to skin contact. There are at least 100 strains of this virus. Some strains cause warts on your hands, feet or other places on your body. Some strains cause genital warts. And some strains can infect the cervix and lead to cervical cancer. An estimated 75-80% of sexually active adults will become infected with HPV in the genital tract before their 50th birthday. Every year, more than 10,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,000 women die from it. The HPV vaccine can help prevent cervical cancer, as well as genital warts.
HPV Vaccination – For Girls and Boys
There are two available HPV vaccines: Gardasil and Cervarix. Gardasil protects against HPV types 16 and 18, which are responsible for 50% of pre-cancerous changes in the cervix and 70% of cervical cancers. It also protects against HPV types 6 and 11, which cause 90% of genital warts. Cervarix protects against HPV types 16 and 18. There is evidence that both of these vaccines may also provide cross-protection against other HPV strains associated with cervical cancer.
Both Gardasil and Cervarix are administered in three doses over a six-month period of time. Studies of both vaccines suggest they are as safe as other common vaccines. Both vaccines are recommended for girls age 11-12, but are approved for girls and young women from age 9 to 26. Gardasil has also been approved by the FDA for use in boys and young men from age 9 to 26.
And this is where I usually get some raised eyebrows, “Really? Age nine?” Yes. Age nine. And I cannot stress the importance of this enough. The HPV vaccine prevents HPV infections, but it does not cure HPV infections. Therefore, girls and boys need to get the vaccine before they become sexually active, otherwise the vaccine doesn’t work nearly as well. In fact, research has shown the vaccine can prevent between 93-100% of serious cervical infections or cancers in those who are vaccinated before becoming sexually active. In contrast, it prevents less than 50% of serious cervical infections or cancers in those who get vaccinated after becoming sexually active. That’s a REALLY big difference. And recent studies suggest one out of every three ninth graders is sexually active and some become sexually active even earlier than that.
The vaccine should be available through your primary care provider, pediatrician or gynecologic care provider. If you are interested in getting vaccinated or want to learn more information about the vaccine, make it a priority to discuss this with your or your child’s healthcare provider at your next visit.
As a clinician and as someone who believes in the importance of public health, the HPV vaccine is a major breakthrough in the prevention of cervical cancer. If we get enough young people vaccinated it is possible I may get to a point in my career when I no longer see abnormal Pap smear results. Wouldn’t that be great?
Contact one of our offices to make an appointment to have your child vaccinated.
Jody Lindwall is a Certified Nurse Midwife who sees patients at the Peterkort South Office of Women’s Healthcare Associates, LLC in Portland, Oregon. After attending Yale University for her bachelor’s degree, Jody spent three years in Costa Rica before returning to school to study midwifery under a National Health Service Corps Scholarship. She obtained her Master of Science degree in nurse-midwifery from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. She is dedicated to empowering women to make informed decisions regarding their reproductive health and advocating for their right to make those decisions. Jody is fluent in Spanish.
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