Author: Brenna Robertson
In a world of pandemics, vaccines, tests, and what feel like new threats to our health and safety every day, it is sometimes important to look back and review the basics of our personal health. This is particularly applicable when we think of infections that very easily spread from person to person. One such infection is the human papillomavirus (HPV).
What is HPV?
HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a group of more than 200 viruses, some of which can cause cancers, including cervical, oropharyngeal and anal cancer. About 75% of HPV-type viruses can cause warts or papillomas (non-cancerous tumors), while the other 25% affect mucosal areas such as the vagina, penis, anus and mouth. Although HPV causes more than 99% of cervical cancer cases, the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) states about 70% of oropharyngeal cancer is linked to HPV infections in the mouth and upper throat.
Screening is important
HPV impacts anyone of any gender, and anyone of any age can develop cancer after infection. It is so common, the CDC reports, that nearly everyone will get an HPV infection at some point in life. Because the virus can go undetected, it can put people at risk of developing cancer or unknowingly spreading the infection.
The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that women start pap screenings at age 21. Early detection of oropharyngeal cancer is possible with routine mouth and upper throat screenings, so individuals should talk to their healthcare providers about when is the best time to start screening.
Can I protect myself?
Yes, the HPV vaccine is cancer prevention. By vaccinating against HPV, individuals may be protected from certain types of cancer that may develop later in life as a result of HPV infection. The HPV vaccine was first introduced in the United States in 2006, and since then, cervical precancers and HPV infections have decreased. According to cancer.org, the Gardasil 9 vaccine prevents the infection of nine types of HPV, which cause 90% of all cervical cancers. HPV vaccination is safe and known to be a strong cancer prevention tool.
Who can get the vaccine?
The HPV vaccine is recommended for boys and girls between ages 9 and 12 and, as of July 1, 2021, is required for students entering seventh grade in Virginia. Even though it may seem like a young age to get vaccinated, this provides better protection because it protects people before a potential exposure.
It has been determined that the vaccine is safe and effective for everyone between 9 and 45 years of age. Most insurance companies cover the vaccine for anyone up to age 26, some insurance companies cover the vaccine for women up to 45, and all insurance companies cover the vaccine for people living with HIV up to age 45.
What else should I know?
Vaccinations are the best protections against serious diseases. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says parents should ensure children are up to date on routine vaccinations such as the HPV vaccine. The HPV vaccination can be given at the same visit when receiving other important vaccinations, such as the COVID-19, influenza or TDAP vaccine.
Contact your healthcare provider to learn if the HPV vaccine is recommended for you, or if your child needs to catch up on important vaccines such as the HPV vaccine.