It’s likely you’ve heard about the HPV vaccine. This vaccine can protect your child against the human papillomavirus. This virus causes several types of cancer, including cervical, anal, vulvar, vaginal, penile and oropharyngeal cancers.
The HPV vaccine is recommended for pre-teens. But why? And does it work for older teens and adults? When it comes to the HPV vaccine, how late is too late?
There are a lot of questions surrounding the HPV vaccine. We spoke with Lois Ramondetta, M.D., professor of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine. Here’s what she told us about the age range for the HPV vaccine.
Boys and girls ages 9 to 26 can get the vaccine
The CDC recommends all boys and girls get the HPV vaccine between the ages of 11 and 12, the age for optimal protection. They should get two shots, six to 12 months apart.
“Vaccines given to 14 or 15 year olds are late and less effective,” Ramondetta says.
In fact, patients over 14 should receive three shots over the course of six months to receive the same benefit. The bottom line: boys and girls can get the HPV vaccine as early as age 9 and up to age 26.
The earlier a child receives the HPV vaccine, the better
The HPV vaccine is most effective if it’s given before HPV exposure.
HPV is spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact. Nearly 80% of people – both men and women – get HPV at some point in their lives. Most of the time, the body’s immune system takes care of it. If the body doesn't clear the virus, it can cause cancer. That’s why the HPV vaccine is so important.
Studies also have shown the best immune response is achieved when the vaccine is given to pre-teens, rather than older boys and girls.
While the vaccine works best in younger patients, that doesn’t mean that if you’re 27 you can’t choose to get the vaccine.
“The vaccine is safe, so it won’t hurt you if you’re older,” Ramondetta says. “But it won’t provide the same benefits as when you were younger.”
It’s important to remember that the vaccine doesn’t protect you from every type of HPV, so it’s important to get a Pap test or HPV test. Women ages 21 to 29 should have a Pap test every three years to check for abnormal cells that could lead to cervical cancer. Women ages 30 to 64 should have an HPV and Pap test every five years or a Pap test every three years. Currently, there is no HPV test for men.
These tests can’t prevent cancer, but they can help find it early, when it’s easiest to treat.