If you could easily prevent cancer, would you? If you answered, ‘yes,’ the good news is, you can. The HPV vaccine is the only vaccine that’ll decrease your odds of certain cancers and now it’s available for people in a broader age range – those 27-45. Lumea Howard, DO, UnityPoint Health, explains the HPV vaccine for adults, the vaccine schedule and the cancers it helps prevent.
What is HPV?
HPV stands for human papilloma virus. The virus is extremely common and transmitted through vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who has the virus. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, about 80 percent of people will get an HPV infection in their lifetime. However, not all types of HPV are considered harmful.
The strains that are harmful can lead to cervical cancer and cancers of the vagina and vulva in women. In men, it can cause cancers of the penis. Both men and women can also contract anal cancers and back of the throat (oropharyngeal) cancer from the virus. HPV also causes genital warts.
“The vaccination could prevent more than 90 percent of cancers caused by HPV. According to the CDC, that’s an estimated 32,100 cases prevented every year,” Dr. Howard says.
What is the HPV Vaccine?
The vaccine is called Gardasil 9, and it’s the only vaccine available in the United States. It reduces HPV infection and disease related to nine HPV types (31, 33, 45, 52, 58, 6, 11, 16 and 18). The same vaccine is used whether you’re 12 or 40. You do not need to be tested for HPV before getting the HPV vaccine.
Common side effects include injection site pain, mild redness and some swelling. Some may also notice fatigue, headaches, dizziness, low-grade fever and muscle aches following the vaccine. All HPV vaccine side effects are generally mild and last less than 48 hours.
What is the HPV Vaccine Age?
The HPV vaccine is most effective when given before a person is exposed to any sexual activity at ages 11 or 12. Prior to 2018, the vaccine was only available for those age 26 and under. Now, however, the FDA has approved the use of the vaccine through the age of 45. If you’re between ages 27 and 45, you might be wondering about getting the vaccine. Dr. Howard says give it some thought and talk with your doctor.
“Most sexually active adults have already been exposed to HPV, though they may not have been exposed to all the HPV types, which are targeted by the vaccine. Having a new sex partner is a risk factor for getting a new HPV infection,” Dr. Howard says.
What is the HPV Vaccine Schedule?
“The studies on the HPV vaccine indicate two doses of the HPV vaccine in girls and boys between the ages of 9 and 14 create an antibody response which is as good as, or better than, three doses. The immune response in those older than 14 has not been studied in the same way, and that is why three doses are recommended in order to ensure the best protection,” Dr. Howard says.
This is how the HPV vaccine schedule breaks down:
- Ages 14 and under. Two doses. The second shot should be given 6 months after the first shot.
- Ages 15 through 45. Three doses. The second should be given 1-2 months after the first, and the third should be given 6 months after the first.
Dr. Howard says this schedule is ideal, but if you get off by a few months, or even years, don’t sweat it.
“If your dose series has been interrupted for any reason, you don’t have to start over. If you had the first two doses, but it has been two years or more since your second dose, you can still have the third dose administered to you,” she says.
That being said, it is important for you to get all of the recommended doses.
“By not completing the series, you are less protected against HPV infection, because your body mounts less of an antibody response. By not completing the series, you are not getting the full benefit of the vaccine,” Dr. Howard says.
Who, in the 27-45 Age Range, Should Consider the Vaccine?
Here are a few scenarios with advice from Dr. Howard:
- Monogamous relationship. You are at low risk of HPV infection. But, if you or your partner have a history of additional sexual partners, you could consider getting the vaccine.
- Dating/Non-monogamous Relationship. The vaccine is for you. It can protect you from future contact with HPV.
- Existing HPV diagnosis. It’s a good idea to get the vaccine. It’ll protect you from contracting different types of HPV you haven’t been exposed to. Vaccinations will not have any therapeutic effect on existing HPV infections, HPV-associated precancer lesions, cancer or anogenital warts.
“Even if you are in a monogamous relationship currently, life doesn’t always go according to our plans. Many people end up with multiple sexual partners over the course of their lifetime. No one plans on getting into a car accident, but it’s still a good idea to wear a seat belt. No one plans on contracting HPV, but it’s still a good idea to get vaccinated,” Dr. Howard says.