What’s the deal with HPV? What you need to know about the most common STD

By Emily

Although cervical cancer is the second leading cause of cancer related death among women worldwide, regular cervical screenings, early treatment, and vaccination against the types of human papillomavirus (HPV) most commonly associated with the development of cervical cancer also make it one of the most easily preventable cancers.

What is HPV?

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) and nearly all sexually active individuals contract it at some point in their lives. There are more than 100 types of HPV, over 40 of which infect the genital area. In most cases, HPV has no symptoms and goes away on its own without causing any health problems. However, some types of HPV can cause lasting infections that can lead to the development of cancer in the anus, throat, cervix, penis, and other places in the body. Fortunately, there are vaccines available that protect against the main types of HPV that account for more than 70% of cervical cancers*.

How are HPV and HPV-related health problems prevented?

Although nearly all sexually active individuals will contract some form of HPV in their lifetimes, there are several things you can do to lower your chance of getting HPV. HPV vaccines are safe, effective, and can protect everyone, regardless of their anatomy and sexual preference, from many diseases and cancers caused by HPV. Routine screenings for cervical cancer in the form of a Pap test and/or HPV testing are also recommended if you have a cervix and are between the ages of 21 and 65 to catch pre-cancerous conditions and treat abnormalities early. Correct and consistent use of latex or polyurethane condoms can significantly lower the risk of contracting HPV, however, no method is 100% effective at preventing the spread of STDs aside from abstinence.

Who should get vaccinated against HPV?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that all children aged 11 or 12 should be vaccinated against HPV. While the vaccine is most effective when given before someone becomes sexually active, the vaccine can generally be taken up until age 26 for those who have not been previously vaccinated.

Where can I get vaccinated?

HPV vaccines are generally available at pediatrician and OBGYN offices, local health departments, and Planned Parenthood health clinics. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky health centers offer the Gardasil vaccine for men and women up to age 26. Vaccine cost depends on insurance status, so call your local clinic for a price estimate.

Side effects of HPV vaccines are no different than those caused by other common vaccines. They are: pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site, dizziness, fainting, nausea, and headache. These are temporary, but the vaccine can prevent many serious health problems including the development of cervical cancer. HPV vaccination is an important step you can take to prevent cervical cancer. Consider getting the vaccine this January during Cervical Cancer Awareness month.

* Gardasil and Cervarix only protects against two types of HPV associated with cervical cancer – 16 and 18. Gardasil 9 protects against 7 types of HPV associated with cervical cancer – 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58. In both cases, the vaccine accounts for coverage for types accountable for over 70% of CC cases as 16 and 18 account for over 70% of all cases alone – Gardasil 9 protects against types associated with 90% of all cases.

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