The human papilloma virus, or HPV, is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). Approximately 75% of men and women will become infected with HPV in their lifetime, most often during their first 2-3 years of sexual contact. There are several types of HPV that can cause cervical warts or cervical cancer, and both men and women can be infected, so carriers can transmit it to their partners. Condoms are only partially effective in preventing the spread of the virus, and symptoms are not usually visible. While women are screened regularly for HPV through pap smears, there is no effective screening test for men, so most do not realize they are infected.
Recently, the FDA approved the Gardasil 9 vaccine, which has the potential to prevent approximately 90 percent of cervical, vulvar, vaginal and anal cancers. Gardasil 9 is a vaccine that’s only approved for use in females ages 9 – 26 and males ages 9 – 15. Gardasil 9 adds protection against five additional HPV types—31, 33, 45, 52 and 58— which cause approximately 20 percent of cervical cancers that were not covered previous versions of the vaccine.
Women over age 26 were not included in the first studies testing the vaccines, so the FDA could not approve the vaccines for this age group. Since that time, the use of Gardasil in women aged 27 – 45 has been studied, and was found to help protect women who weren’t infected with these particular strains before vaccination. However, when the FDA reviewed the data, it concluded that the vaccine didn’t help enough women to justify giving it to all women up to age 45.
The best time to vaccinate is age 11-12 in boys and girls, but vaccinations are most effective in people aged 9-26. The goal is to vaccinate before young people become sexually active. For those who are already sexually active, benefits from the vaccine can still be realized, as they may not have contracted the HPV variant that causes cancer.
Assuming you have not been exposed to any or all of the nine strains of HPV covered by Gardasil 9, the vaccine could provide you with some measure of protection.
DeRosa Medical offers contraceptive, reproductive health services, comprehensive sexual health screenings for men and women, counseling and more. For an appointment, please call 480.619.4097.