Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Cervical Cancer
HPV is a very common sexually transmitted disease; 15% of the population is affected at any time. Over half of sexually active women and men will be infected with some type of HPV in their lifetime, but most of those affected are between the ages of 15 and 24. Unfortunately, HPV often has no symptoms, so women especially do not know they have it. In addition, the infection usually clears without treatment, and although it is undetectable in most women within two years of the infection, it can remain in the body for many years.
Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women world-wide; however, in the United States, it is not among the top 10 causes of new cancers in women each year. This is primarily because of the routine use of Pap testing and early treatment of cervical dysplasias that could have become cancers. All women should have regular Pap smears, beginning with the onset of sexual activity or at age 18.
The Connection Between HPV and Cervical Cancer
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of more than 100 different virus types, each of which can cause different health problems, including common, plantar, and genital warts, skin and cervical cancers. Two types of HPV, 6 and 11, are responsible for 90% of genital warts. Two other types, 16 and 18, are responsible for about 70% of cervical cancers.
Two vaccines against HPV are approved by the FDA and are commercially available: Gardisil, approved since 2006, provides protection against four types of HPV– types 6 and 11 that cause genital warts and types 16 and 18 that cause cervical cancer. Cervarix, approved since 2009, provides protection again types 16 and 18. Like other vaccines, HPV vaccines need to be given before exposure to the infection, thus they are recommended for routine immunization of girls, ages 11-12. Providers may choose to give Gardisil to girls as young as age 9, or Cervarix to girls as young as age 10, depending on circumstances. In addition, “catch-up” immunization with Gardisil can be given to girls and young women, ages 13-26, or with Cervarix to girls and young women ages 13-25.
Both vaccines are given in a series of three injections, over a period of six months. The cost of the series is about $375, and insurance companies vary in coverage.
The following links provide additional information about HPV, cervical cancer, and how to avoid the risk factors that lead to these preventable diseases.
- Can Cervical Cancer Be Prevented? (ACS)
- Cervical Cancer Risk Questionnaire (Washington University School of Medicine)
- HPV Vaccine Questions and Answers (CDC)
- What Every Woman Should Know About Cervical Cancer and the Human Papilloma Virus (ACS)
For more information:
Go to the Women’s Health health topic.