The best way to prevent cervical cancer
Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers, though the rates are declining as individuals are receiving the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine series. HPV is a group of viruses that are transmitted through sexual contact, and infection by certain types of the virus may lead to cervical changes or cancer in the future.
According to the CDC, most sexually active individuals will be HPV-positive at some point; however, few will develop cancerous cells from the infection. HPV is most commonly associated with cervical cancer but is also known to cause genital warts and may lead to certain cancers of the tongue, throat, penis, vagina, and anus. Therefore, it is important to consider vaccination for both males and females. The CDC reports that vaccination can prevent over 90% of cancers caused by HPV.
What is HPV and how is transferred?
Human papilloma virus is a group of viruses that transfer from person to person through sexual intercourse or any skin-to-skin contact with the genital area, including oral sex. There are over 100 different types of HPV, but only 15 have been identified to cause cervical cancer. A few of the common strains include:
- HPV 6 & 11: infection causes 90% of genital wart cases but are unlikely to cause cancer
- HPV 16 & 18: infection causes about 70% of cervical cancer cases (in addition to many other strains that are less common)
It is important to note that it can take several years or even decades before cancer develops after an individual is exposed to HPV.
How do I get screened for HPV?
Women should begin cervical cancer screenings (pap smear) at age 21. Pap smears should be performed, regardless of whether an individual receives the HPV vaccination or not. Pap smears should be repeated at least every 3-5 years until the age of 65, or as recommended by your healthcare provider. These screenings can also specifically test for the presence of HPV.
How can I prevent HPV?
There are several ways to help prevent HPV, including vaccination and abstinence. If you are sexually active, it is best if you remain in a monogamous relationship and to wear protection during intercourse.
Who should be vaccinated?
Vaccination is recommended for both boys and girls at age 11-12, or even as early as 9 years of age. The recommendation previously stated 26 as the maximum age for vaccination, though this has been extended to any age, as the vaccine can be effective older ages. However, it is important to start the vaccines prior to an individual’s first sexual interaction (exposure to HPV). An example of an HPV vaccine includes Gardasil 9, which protects from nine strains (6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, 58). This is given a series of 2-to-3 doses, depending on your age.
Vaccines have very few side effects. You may experience redness and swelling at the location of the injection.
If you have any further questions or concerns, please contact your primary care provider or feel free to contact Reid Family & Specialty Care. We will be happy to discuss your risks, screenings and prevention. The CDC also provides more detailed information on HPV, cervical cancer and screening recommendations at https://www.cdc.gov/hpv.