Lately, I seem to be getting more questions about the Gardasil injection from patients - both from my younger patients who received (or should have) the immunization or from my patients who are questioning whether or not to immunize to HPV. My resounding answer is “absolutely yes”.
HPV, or Human Papilloma Virus, is a sexually transmitted virus that is associated with cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis and oropharynx (back of the throat). At least 70% if cervical cancer cases are caused by just 2 types of this virus. About 14 million people each year become newly infected each year. HPV is so common that most sexually-active people, men and women, will get at least one type of HPV in during their lifetime. While in most instances HPV goes away on its own, when it does not, it may lead to health problems like genital warts, abnormal pap smears, or cancer.
Most people who have HPV are not aware they have the virus or could transfer it to someone else. There is not a way to treat the virus, although often the problems that the virus can cause do require treatments.
However, there is a very safe and extremely effective vaccine which can protect young people from HPV infection. While it does not protect every type of HPV that someone might be exposed to, it does protect from the strains of HPV that are most closely linked to cervical and other cancers as well as the most common wart-causing types of HPV.
Most commonly, the HPV vaccine is administered by pediatricians. There are a few reasons for this. Most doctors recommend that the injection be given at age 11 or 12. When the immunization is given before age 15, two shots are effective for protecting against HPV. Between the age of 15 and 26, 3 immunizations are required. In addition, the injection is best given before a person becomes sexually active, since there is less benefit to the shot is someone has already been exposed to HPV.
Gardasil injections are available in our office. Non-immunized women under 26, even if they have already become sexually active, should consider having the HPV vaccine. While the immunization does not prevent all types of HPV infection or all HPV related complications, a great deal of HPV cancers and pre-cancers, genital warts, and HPV infections can be avoided with HPV immunization.