Monday, January 16, 2012

HPV Vaccines - Who Needs Them?

You may have heard about the HPV Vaccine, but do you know what HPV is? Human Papillomaviruses (HPV) are a group of more than 150 related viruses. They get their name because certain types may cause warts, or papillomas, which are non-cancerous growths. Persistent infections with high-risk HPVs are the primary cause of cervical and anal cancers. Genital HPV infection also causes some cancers of the vulva, vagina, and penis, as well as some cancers of the oropharynx (the middle part of the throat, including the soft palate, base of the tongue and tonsils.)

The FDA has approved two vaccines to prevent HPV infection - Gardasil® and Cervarix®. Both vaccines are highly effective in preventing infections with the strains of HPV that cause about 70% of cervical cancers. Garadsil also prevents infection with the types which cause 90% of genital warts, a non-cancerous sexually transmitted infection.

Gardasil is approved for girls and women ages 9 to 26. It is recommended that the vaccine be given routinely to girls at age 11 to 12 years old, although doctors may choose to vaccinate girls as young as 9. It requires three doses spread over several months. The vaccine can also be given to girls and women 13 to 26 who did not receive the vaccine at the recommended ages. However, if a girl or woman is already infected with HPV, the vaccine will not prevent that strain of HPV from causing disease. It will protect against new infections with other strains of HPV included in the vaccine.

The vaccine is also being studied in males, and was recently recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) in men ages 11 to 21. Men can get HPV infections and pass the virus along to their sexual partners. HPV has caused genital warts and is associated with rare cases of cancer of the penis. It is also linked to anal cancers, primarily in homosexual men.

For more information on HPV vaccines or cervical cancer, contact Casey Shelor, one of our Certified Health Education Specialists, by email or by phone at 479-361-5847. Information for this article was gathered from WebMD and the National Cancer Institute.

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