Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that is the cause of most cervical cancers across the world. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 80 million Americans who are currently infected with HPV. Many people carrying HPV can show no signs of symptoms and may not even know they have it.
Exposure to HPV can lead to infection of the lower genital tract. If the HPV infection persists, it can cause changes in the cervix that eventually lead to precancer and eventually cancer. Just like HPV can infect the cervix, it can infect other lower genital tract structures including the vagina, vulva, anus, and penis. HPV can also infect the mouth and other areas of the head and neck.
Who can get the HPV vaccine?
The HPV vaccine protects against the most common cancer-causing strains of HPV. In the United States, the vaccine protects against 9 strains of HPV. The HPV vaccine was first approved in the United States in 2006 based on its efficacy in preventing cervical precacners. The HPV vaccine is recommended for all children and adults (male and female) aged 9 to 45 years in the United States.
Why is it important to get vaccinated?
Before we understood how to screen and prevent cervical cancer, it was a leading cause of death for women in the United States. With the advent of Pap tests in the 1940’s and initiation of cervical cancer screening, we have prevented thousands of women from getting cervical cancer.
How effective is the vaccine?
The HPV vaccine is extremely effective in preventing cervical cancers. It may also protect against other HPV cancers such as vaginal, vulvar, penile, anal, and head and neck cancers that are all very difficult to treat once they are diagnosed. Getting the HPV vaccine decreases the chance that you can get these cancers. It is important for both males and females to get vaccinated so that they don’t spread the virus to their partners.
Speak with your healthcare provider about receiving the HPV vaccine. Schedule an appointment in our Women’s Health Clinic today by calling 504.702.4924.
Dr. Navya Nair is a Gynecologic Oncologist at University Medical Center New Orleans and Assistant Professor with LSU Health New Orleans. She studied biomedical engineering also completed a master’s degree in Public Health at Tulane University before moving on to New York University for medical school. She completed her residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Emory University in Atlanta and her fellowship in Gynecologic Oncology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. Dr. Nair returned to her hometown of New Orleans to practice as a gynecologic oncologist. She specializes in the use of surgery and chemotherapy in treating women with gynecologic cancers. In addition, she is actively involved with the clinical trials program at the Louisiana Cancer Center. Dr. Nair also has a strong interest in global women’s health. She has worked in India, Ethiopia and Liberia and hopes to contribute to improving the care of women worldwide by implementing cancer prevention programs and improving access to cancer care.