Human papillomavirus (or HPV) vaccine is the only vaccine that can prevent certain types of cancer. By preventing viral infection, it reduces the chance for cellular changes to progress to throat, cervical and anal cancers. The HPV vaccine is preventive, not curative, and so it is recommended to start at 9 years of age. Due to improved immune response when younger, the series is two shots if started before 15 years of age and three shots after.
Women are more at risk than men, with 95 percent of cervical cancer due to HPV infection. Women who don’t receive this vaccine will undergo many more invasive procedures to remove the pre-cancerous cervical cells, which can be painful and scary. Pap smears will still be recommended to test for cancer but with HPV vaccine prevention, the Pap smears will likely be normal and not require further intervention. Women are also at risk of death – with 4,000 women a year dying of cervical cancer in the U.S.
“A couple things I talk to the parents of both girls and boys about is that this is a vaccine that will prevent infection of the virus, which will in turn prevent those cancers,” says pediatrician Sheena Whittaker, MD, who serves as vice president and senior physician executive at Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital in Ellsworth.
The HPV vaccine is recommended for both boys and girls from 9 to 26 years of age. It is approved for women up to the age of 45 years but is not usually as necessary.
Again, Dr. Whittaker reiterates, the vaccine is not a treatment, but a preventive measure. The HPV vaccine is a gift to teens, she says, who as adults will not have to experience the worry, medical procedures, and risk of these cancers.
If you have questions about the HPV vaccine for you or for your child, book an appointment with a Northern Light Health provider! You can schedule an appointment online through our provider portal.