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HPV Vaccination: What You Need To Know

The most recent version of the HPV vaccine has been a game-changer in the fight against this sexually transmitted infection (STI), but who should get it and when?

Here’s what you need to know.

Who Should Get the Vaccine

The HPV vaccine was introduced in 2006. At that time, it was recommended for males and females ages 9 through 26. Today, that age limit has been increased to 45. However, although safe for older adults, the vaccine is less effective the older you are.

If you are sexually active, the older you are, the higher the chance you have already been exposed to the human papilloma virus. This makes the vaccine less effective. However, it will still protect you against the variations you have not yet been exposed to.

The vaccine helps prevent:

  • Cervical cancer
  • Genital warts
  • Anal cancer caused by HPV

Women should not get the vaccine if they are pregnant.

HPV Vaccine and Kids

The HPV vaccine generally is recommended for girls and boys 11 and older. It’s administered in two doses, given six to 12 months apart. In some circumstances, kids as young as 9 may receive the treatment. To have your kids vaccinated or learn more, talk to your child’s pediatrician. A three-dose schedule is recommended for those age 15 years or older.

HPV Variants

The HPV virus has more than 200 variants. Only 40 affect the genitals. Of these, 12 variants are considered high risk, with the variants HPV 16 and HPV 18 leading to the majority of HPV cancers.

If you have been exposed to HPV and even if you have had HPV in the past, there is still a benefit to the vaccine because of the high number of variants. If you tested positive for HPV in the past, you were likely exposed to just one variant.

The new vaccine protects against nine variants. By comparison, the 2006 version of the vaccine only worked against four HPV types.

HPV and Cancer

HPV, the most common STI, can clear on its own, but in some cases it doesn’t. It may cause cervical dysplasia, when cells become abnormal, possibly leading to cancer. Checking for dysplasia is one of the big benefits of annual pap smears.

Keep in mind that HPV affects individuals differently. Two women could be exposed to the same HPV variant, and one may get dysplasia and cancer, and the other woman suffers no effects.

HPV and Genital Warts

Two low-risk HPV variants cause genital warts. The vaccine also helps protect against these variants, which may be difficult to treat and can lead to feelings of stigmatization.

HPV and Anal Cancer

The vaccine protects against HPV variants that lead to anal cancer. Keep in mind that pap smears don’t test for anal cancer, so there’s no easy way to detect if you’ve been exposed anally. Talk to your doctor if this is a concern. There are testing methods, such as digital rectal exams, anoscopies and biopsies, to detect the presence of anal cancer.

Should You Get Vaccinated Again

The CDC considers the new version of the HPV vaccine like the vaccines that you had in early childhood — as in, one complete round of shots lasts your entire life. If you have had the new version of the vaccine, you don’t need a booster or reimmunization.

If you had the 2006 version, you may want to consider the new vaccine. If you’re in a sexually monogamous relationship and over the age of 26, the vaccine may not be helpful. However, if you’re single or newly divorced, for example, you may want to consider it, especially if you have not yet had an abnormal pap smear due to HPV.

Talk with your physician. No safety concerns with the vaccination have been identified in large population studies. Do know, however, that insurance carriers are less likely to cover the cost in adults over the age of 26.

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