One of the most important recent advances in women’s health is a vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV). The HPV vaccine protects against serious health problems such as cervical cancer and other less common cancers. The first HPV vaccine was approved in June of 2006 after testing in thousands of people around the world. Two HPV vaccines are currently licensed by the FDA and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Gardacil is approved for girls or boys ages 9 to 26, and Cervarix is approved for girls 10 through 25 years of age.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States. More than half of sexually active men and women are infected with the virus at some time in their lives. In addition to causing cervical cancer, HPV can cause vaginal and vulvar cancer in women, and other types of cancers in both men and women. It can also cause genital warts and warts in the throat.
But good news! The HPV vaccine can prevent most cases of cervical cancer in women. It can also prevent vaginal and vulvar cancer in women and genital warts and anal cancer in both men and women. Protection from the vaccine is long-lasting.
While we all hope that young teens are abstaining from sexual activity, it is important to vaccinate girls long before their first sexual contact. In addition, the response to the vaccine is stronger in younger girls and for this reason, we recommend vaccinating girls at age 11 or 12 years. The vaccine is given as a 3-dose series over 6 months. Both vaccines are available for women, but only one of them can be given to men also.
Vaccines have undergone a lot of scrutiny in recent years, but all of the available scientific evidence confirms their safety and efficacy. In spite of this, many false rumors are circulating and I continue to be confused by the number of parents who decline the vaccine for their daughters. As a mother and a pediatrician, I gave my daughter the HPV vaccine as soon as it became available and I urge all parents to do the same.
For more information on the HPV vaccine, visit www.cdc.gov/vaccines.
About Monica Richter, MD, PhD
Dr. Monica Richter is a board certified pediatrician with Valley Children’s Clinic. Over the past 18+ years Dr. Richter has helped hundreds of pubescent girls navigate the physical and emotional aspects of their changing bodies and psyches, including menstruation, body changes, sexuality and how babies are conceived, through her free seminar, As Girls Grow Up. She also teaches BodyWorks, an eight-week health education program developed by the Dept. of Health & Human Services. Bodyworks is designed to provide parents and caregivers of teenage girls and boys ages 9 to 16 with tools to improve family eating and activity habits. Originally from Manhattan, Dr. Richter is married with two grown children. In her spare time she enjoys reading and knitting.
Valley Children’s Clinic is located at 4011 Talbot Road S., Suite 220, in Renton. Phone: 425.656.5300; www.valleychildrensclinic.org