Help your kids prevent cancer
All males and females ages 9–26 should get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. It is most effective when given at ages 11–12. Unvaccinated men and women ages 27–45 should talk to their doctor about the benefits of the vaccine.
The vaccine is given in two doses for males and females ages 9-14. Beginning at age 15 through age 45, three doses are required for full immunity.
The HPV vaccine prevents most cervical, anal, vaginal and vulvar cancers. The HPV vaccine reduces the risk of most HPV-related cancers of the throat and the penis. The vaccine also prevents HPV-related genital warts in both men and women.
The HPV vaccine is a safe and effective vaccination against HPV infection.
What is HPV?
HPV is a virus that is spread by intimate skin-to-skin contact. While most cases are sexually transmitted, people who haven’t had intercourse can become infected. There are more than 150 types of the HPV virus. Several types cause genital warts. There are about 12 types – known as high-risk types -- that cause HPV-related cancer.
About 80% of people – both men and women – will get an HPV infection at some point in their lives. Most people with HPV don’t know they’re infected and never develop symptoms. The body most often clears the virus before it causes any health problems. But for some, the infection persists and can lead to precancerous changes.
Screening tests can determine if a woman has a cervical HPV infection. There currently is no screening exam to detect HPV infections in other parts of the body infection in the throat in men or women. There is no drug or treatment that can eliminate the HPV virus from the body. However, there are ways to treat HPV-related health problems like precancerous lesions and genital warts.
HPV and cervical cancer
Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV. Because no vaccine prevents all types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer, vaccinated women age 21 to 29 should get cervical cancer screening (Pap tests) every three years.
Beginning at age 30 and through age 64, women should get a Pap test and and HPV test every five years. The HPV test checks your cervix for the virus, which can cause abnormal cells that lead to cervical cancer. If the test is positive, you may need more frequent screening for cervical cancer.
HPV and throat cancer
Throat cancer is the most common HPV-related cancer in men. Throat cancer is also referred to as oropharyngeal cancer. It forms in the tonsils and around the base of the tongue. Women can also get this type of cancer from HPV infection.
About 75% of throat cancers are the result of HPV infections. There is no screening exam for throat cancer.
But our experts say COVID-19 should not derail critical preventive care for kids. That includes the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.
“Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, it was really about just stopping your life, shutting everything down, and making sure that you didn’t get exposed to anyone or anything,” says Michael Roth, M.D., co-director of MD Anderson’s Adolescent and Young Adult Program.
Now, Roth says, we have to shift our mindset and think about how we can protect ourselves against COVID-19 and also keep ourselves and our families healthy and protected from other preventable diseases long-term.
Here are three things parents should know about the HPV vaccine during COVID-19.
The HPV vaccine is a safe and effective cancer prevention vaccine
About 80% of men and women will get an HPV infection in their lifetime. The HPV vaccine prevents most cervical, anal, vaginal and vulvar cancers. It reduces the risk of most HPV-related cancers of the throat and the penis. It also prevents HPV-related genital warts.
“The HPV vaccine is safe and highly effective. We know it works,” says Roth. “It’s the only vaccine we have that can prevent invasive types of cancer.”
The vaccine is especially important for childhood, adolescent and young adult cancer survivors. They are at a significantly higher risk for getting HPV-related cancers in adulthood.
“As important as these recommendations are for the general public, they are extremely important for our cancer survivors,” says Roth. “It’s vital that high risk populations get vaccinated against HPV.”
The earlier you get the HPV vaccine, the better
The HPV vaccine is most effective when given to kids between 9 and 14, with a follow up booster shot within six months to a year.
HPV is spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact. So why vaccinate at such a young age? “It’s a great vaccine, but it works best if you haven’t been exposed to HPV,” says Lois Ramondetta, M.D. “The vaccine works best if you get it before you’re exposed to the virus. It’s also more effective for immune memory the earlier you get it.”
Beginning at age 15, three shots are needed. The vaccine can be given up to age 26. But again, the earlier you get the shot, the better it works, and the less likely you have already been exposed to the virus.
Men and women age 27 to 45 should talk to their doctor about the benefits of the HPV vaccine.
You can take steps to keep yourself and your kids safe during COVID-19
Both Ramondetta and Roth urge parents to talk to their pediatrician in advance of a visit to find out what steps they have in place to protect patients and visitors from infection. Ask the following:
- Are masks required for all patients, visitors and staff?
- Is social distancing enforced?
- How are you ensuring that kids who are healthy and asymptomatic are not exposed to patients who are coming in with COVID-19 symptoms?
- What steps are you taking to keep the waiting room sanitized?
“You definitely want to be comfortable and should be confident that the setting that you are going to receive the vaccination in is practicing COVID precautions,” says Ramondetta. “As long as your doctor’s office is following the recommended social distancing and mask guidelines, we really do feel that that seeing your family practitioner is safe.”
“Putting basic health care off for another six months or another year, it’s really not safe and potentially you’ll be doing a lot more harm than good,” he says. “I really do believe that it’s safe to bring your child in for their necessary care.”
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
We all hope the awkwardness is over after we get our Pap and HPV tests. So hearing that you have tested positive for HPV can be a blow. What happens next?
Well, for one, you’re not alone. Right now, 80 million people in the United States have HPV. What you need to know is that in most cases, your immune system clears the virus before any health problems develop.
The risk for cancer increases if your body cannot fight off the virus for some reason, and it stays in your system.
What is HPV?
HPV stands for human papillomavirus. There are more than 100 strains of the virus, most of them do not cause cancer.
The virus lives on your skin and is spread during intimate genital contact. Because HPV lives on your skin, condoms don’t fully protect you from it.
Some strains cause genital warts in men and women. These warts will usually show up a few months after you are exposed to HPV. They can be treated with prescription medication or removed. If they are left untreated, they may disappear by themselves, or they could grow in size or number.
Other strains of HPV are known as high risk. In women, these strains can cause cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, and anus, as well as head and neck cancers. Almost all cases of cervical cancers are caused by the HPV virus.
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