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HPV Vaccinations: What, Who, and Why

July 03, 2018

About 9 in 10 people will get a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection at some point in their lives. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Every year in the United States, HPV causes 32,500 cancers in men and women. HPV vaccination can prevent most of the cancers—about 30,000—from ever developing.”

Vaccination as cancer prevention

Most women know that HPV can cause cervical cancer—however, it can also cause numerous other cancers, including cancers of the mouth and throat. Routine screening and Pap tests detect most cases of cervical cancer; but there are not routine screenings for other types of HPV-related cancers, and these cancers can be painful, life-altering, and even life-threatening.

“Studies show that countries that increase vaccination rates decrease cancer rates,” says Heather Pulaski, MD, Kettering Physician Network gynecologic oncologist. The vaccine protects against nine different types of HPV, genital warts, and the HPV types found in over 75% of HPV-related cancers.

Currently, the rate of completing HPV vaccination in the United States is only around 40%. However, in countries where the completion rate is 50% or higher, HPV prevalence goes down almost 70%.

Who should get the vaccination?

The HPV vaccination is recommended for both girls and boys ages 11-12. The series of two shots is a preventive wellness measure to protect young people for their adult life. If a child doesn’t receive the vaccination within this time frame, they can “catch up” and complete the series of shots up until the age of 26, although, ideally, they will get the vaccine before becoming sexually active.

When children get the HPV vaccine, their bodies make antibodies that fight against the virus and give strong and long-lasting protection. There is no evidence that this protection will decrease over time.

HPV vaccines do not contain live viral HPV quantities and they do not contain harmful ingredients. The HPV vaccine does not increase risk for infertility, neurological conditions, autoimmune disorders, or venous thromboembolism. In fact, the HPV vaccine protects women from future fertility problems that are linked to cervical cancer.

“Vaccination is not treatment, but prevention,” Dr. Pulaski says, “and the HPV vaccine is a cancer prevention vaccine.”

Kettering Health Network is partners with the American Cancer Society on initiatives to increase vaccination rates in our community. Regular well-woman visits are also important for maintaining good health and completing preventive screenings. Click here to fnd an OB-GYN near you.