The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the leading cause of cervical cancer. Now, there is a vaccine that protects you from this virus.
The Health Center for Women at Northland Family Planning tests for many sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including Chlamydia, genital warts, herpes and HPV. Our tests and results are conducted in a confidential, respectful manner. Many patients choose to have the test to rule out the possibility of an infection while others may be responsibly checking before beginning sexual activity with a new partner.
All young women (between ages 9 – 26), should be vaccinated against HPV. The Gardasil vaccine is one of only two vaccines that protects against HPV. The Gardasil not only protects against HPV types that cause the most cervical cancer, but it protects against the types that cause most genital warts. Genital HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact, not through an exchange of bodily fluid. (This means you can get HPV without actually having sex!)
- Nearly 3 out of 4 Americans between the ages of 15 and 49 have been infected with genital HPV in their lifetime
- Some studies show that up to 15% of sexually active teenage women are infected with HPV, many with the type of HPV that is linked to cervical cancer
- There are two HPV vaccines available, and all women and men between the ages of 9 and 26 should be vaccinated
What is the HPV vaccine?
There are currently two HPV vaccines available to the public- Gardasil and Cervarix. Gardasil protects against more HPV types than Cervarix so that is the vaccine we provide here at Northland. Gardasil is given as three, separate injections over a six-month period. You must complete the entire series of shots for it to be effective. Gardasil helps protect against two types of HPV that cause about 75% of cervical cancers and two more types that cause 90% of genital warts cases. It’s believed that immunity is achieved one month after the last shot and that it remains effective for at least five years. We do not know yet if booster shots are needed. Studies are still being done to follow women who have received the vaccine to see how long their immunity lasts. For more information on the Gardasil vaccine, CLICK HERE.
What about the HPV vaccine for males?
Good question. Although men cannot get cervical cancer, they can transmit the HPV infection to women, who could get cervical cancer. But, males DO get and transmit genital warts.
Gardasil, the HPV vaccine, is now available for males and helps protect against 90% of genital warts cases. Boys and young men, ages 9 to 26, are candidates for the HPV injection. Encourage your partner to get the Gardasil vaccine…in fact, get vaccinated together!
Why should my daughter get this vaccine before she even has sex?
This vaccine is not a green light for sex but it is a red light to stop cancer in your daughter’s future. The vaccine does not protect against pregnancy or other STIs. This is a cancer vaccine for PRE-exposure to the HPV types that most frequently lead to cervical cancer – a killer of thousands of women here in the U.S. every year. Getting the vaccine early allows for pre-exposure protection- time to develop immunity since protection doesn’t begin until 6 months after starting the first injection. In fact, it is shown that pre-teens and teens have the best immune response from the vaccine. In addition to the protection against cervical cancer and genital warts, Gardasil also helps protect against 70% of vaginal cancer cases and up to 50% of vulvar cancer cases.
We encourage mothers to begin a reproductive health care approach long before their daughters become sexually active. This is a wonderful time to talk frankly about issues of puberty and growing up female and is an opportunity to open the door for greater communication, accurate education and re-affirmation of strong self-esteem. These are the most important elements for your daughter to make good decisions about her body, no matter the pressure or wild myths she hears out there.
Who should get this vaccine?
The vaccine is recommended for women and men between the ages of 9 and 26. If you receive the vaccine before becoming sexually active, the vaccine offers the most protection. Even if you have only had one sexual partner, you may have already been exposed to HPV (a 2002 survey found that 26% of young women in the U.S. had vaginal sex by the age of 15; that number rose to 77 percent by age 19).
HPV is extremely infectious. And, you may not even know you have it. Your partner may not know they have transmitted it to you. Once sexual activity has begun, the likelihood of contracting HPV is 40% within two years and more than 50% within four years!
Please know: 26 is the highest recommended age because the vaccine was only tested in women up to that age, and the vaccine’s current approval must match the ages that were tested.
What if I have been sexually active for a while?
Get the vaccine now…if you are under age 26, the vaccine can still offer cancer protection.
Even if you have been exposed to HPV, research shows that you may not have been exposed to all four (4) types “covered” by the vaccine. So even if you’ve been exposed to and infected with one, two, or even three types of HPV, you can benefit from the vaccine. Even if you’ve had an abnormal Pap test in the past, tested positive for HPV, or have genital warts, the vaccine is recommended because chances are that you don’t have all four types of HPV that are targeted by this vaccine. New vaccines are currently being tested for other HPV types.
So, if I get the vaccine, do I still have to have Annual Exams and Pap Smears?
There are over 30 types of HPV that are transmitted by sexual contact of any kind. This vaccine protects against four very important types, but it doesn’t protect against all of them. 25% of cervical cancers are still due to these other viruses.
Plus, your annual exam, including your breast exam and Pap smear, screens for many other health problems. Have your exam every year! Some of us do it during our birthday month – what better life-gift to give yourself!
How much does it cost?
Call us to check on the cost. Your insurance company may pay for the vaccine, since it has been recommended for universal immunization of females in the age group listed above. We can help verify that information for you.
I can’t afford the shot.
Help is available. If you do not have insurance coverage and/or you’re unable to afford the vaccine, Merck, the pharmaceutical company that has developed and produced Gardasil, has a Patient Assistance Program that may help you get the immunization. The Health Center for Women has applications available in our offices. It only takes about 20 minutes to find out if you are eligible. Please stop in at any of our locations to find out.
Merck, the drug company that manufactures the HPV vaccine Gardasil, offers information on their web site: Information about GARDASIL
Merck also has a patient assistance program available for those without insurance and who cannot afford to pay for the medication: Merck Patient Assistance Program Information
For more helpful and detailed information about HPV and cervical cancer, visit www.hpv.com