Q and A: HPV vaccine, cancer prevention and older adults
The HPV vaccine has been approved as a cancer prevention tool for adults up to 45. Find out what that means for you.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved the HPV vaccine for adults up to age 45. About 80% of men and women will get human papillomavirus (HPV) at some point. The HPV virus causes a number of cancers, including cervical, anal, penile and oropharyngeal (throat) cancer. The virus can also cause genital warts.
MD Anderson recommends that all boys and girls age 11-12 get vaccinated against HPV. The vaccine is recommended for boys and girls at this age so they have time to develop the best immune response to the virus. The vaccine is also effective for kids as young as 9 to adults up to age 26.
We spoke with Lois Ramondetta, M.D., professor of gynecologic and reproductive medicine, about the FDA's decision to expand the age range to 45, and what it means for adults and parents of vaccine-age kids.
Why was the upper age-range for the HPV vaccine expanded from 26 to 45?
The FDA approval shows there is good data to support the use of the HPV vaccine in people aged 26-45. It will allow more people to get the HPV vaccine and protect themselves against cervical, anal, penile, vulvar, vaginal, tonsil and throat cancers.
Of course vaccinating late is no substitute for vaccination at age 11-12. This is when vaccination is most protective.
Should all adults up to age 45 now consider getting vaccinated? What if they know they have already been exposed to HPV?
I would suggest that it doesn’t matter if someone has been exposed the HPV virus or not. I would talk to your physician and vaccinate regardless. Many of us have been exposed to more than one type of HPV. In fact, most people are exposed to more than one type of HPV in their lifetime. There may be other types that the vaccine could still protect you from.
It is a safe vaccine and there are no side effects other than redness or pain from the injection.
What does this mean for parents considering vaccinating their child? Has anything changed for them?
Nothing has changed when it comes to vaccinating children. Parents should absolutely follow the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice and vaccinate their male and female children between ages 11-12 for best protection. This FDA approval to expand the age range is just more support that this is an effective, safe long-lasting vaccine.
How sure are we that the HPV vaccine is safe?
There are no proven serious side effects found in any peer reviewed research. There have been more than 100 million vaccinations given in the United States and 300 million worldwide. We have excellent systems in place to track problems and concerns. The risks are pain, redness and perhaps swelling where you had the injection. Young children can faint with vaccines so we protect them from hurting themselves by having them lie down for 15 minutes after the shot.
The HPV vaccine has a 12-year history, this is no longer a new vaccine. It is not linked to any serious syndromes.
There is quite a lot of information online that has not been verified. It’s best to rely on guidelines from reputable sources like the American Cancer Society.
What are MD Anderson’s current recommendations about the HPV vaccine?
We follow recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice (ACIP) that all males and females age 9-26 get vaccinated. 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.