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Vaccines available to help prevent cervical cancer

Posted 16 January 2019 at 6:05 pm

Press Release, Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming Public Health Departments

If you could receive a vaccine to prevent cancer wouldn’t you? During this Cervical Cancer Awareness Month please take the time to learn about Human Papillomavirus Infection (HPV), the number one cause of cervical cancer. Thankfully, there is a vaccine available to protect against most of the types of HPV that cause various cancers and genital warts.

Approximately 80 million people in the U.S. have been infected and 14 million new infections occur every year.

Most people with HPV will not know that they have an infection. Genital warts are a sign of an HPV infection that cannot be cured. However, an infection of the cervix usually has no symptoms. With or without symptoms, an infected person can spread HPV to others.

The HPV vaccine prevents infection but cannot treat infection. Infection from nine HPV types can be prevented by vaccination. Protection is greatest if given before exposure to HPV infections. The best age for HPV vaccination is 11–12 years but the vaccine can also be given as young as age 9 and now to adults up to age 45.

“In October of last year the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted expanded use of Gardasil 9 to include individuals 27 through 45 years old,” stated Brenden Bedard, Director of Community Health Services for Genesee and Orleans. “This is exciting for those newly eligible. As this change is fairly new, I recommend that those in this age range check with their doctor’s office to ensure their insurance covers it.”

People who are sexually active may be infected with one or more types of HPV, but they can still get the vaccine. There are still benefits because of the unlikelihood of having been infected with all HPV types that are prevented by the vaccine.

HPV is a group of more than 150 related viruses. Each HPV virus in this large group is given a number which is called its HPV type. HPV is named for the warts (papillomas) some HPV types can cause. Some other HPV types can lead to cancer such as cervical, vaginal, penile, anal, mouth and throat.

HPV viruses are so common that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that 80 percent of people will get at least one HPV infection in their lifetime.

Most HPV infections (9 out of 10) go away by themselves within two years and cause no health problems. Unfortunately, the CDC reports that HPV is responsible each year for 33,700 cancers in men and women. The HPV vaccine can prevent most of these cancers (about 31,200) from ever developing.

HPV vaccines work extremely well. The FDA said it based the expansion on results of a study of 3,200 women followed over 3 1/2 years. The study found that Gardasil 9 was 88 percent effective in the prevention of vulvar, vaginal and cervical precancerous lesions, cervical cancer and genital warts caused by the nine HPV strains. The effectiveness of the vaccine in men was “inferred” from the data on women as well as a clinical trial of 150 men ages 27 to 45 who received a three-dose vaccination regimen over a six-month period. The FDA also looked at data from studies of younger men, ages 16 to 26. The overall safety of Gardasil 9, the FDA said, was evaluated in 13,000 men and women. Common adverse reactions included swelling, redness and pain at the injection site, and headache.

For those aged 9–14 years, two shots of vaccine are recommended for greatest protection. The second shot should be given 6–12 months after the first one. For those aged 15–26 years, three shots are recommended. The first two shots should be given 1–2 months apart. The third shot should be given about 6 months after the first shot.

Women can also prevent cervical cancer by getting screened. It is recommended that women should get their first pap test at age 21 and continue screening until age 65. The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for precancers, cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated. There is also an HPV test that looks for the virus that causes these cell changes. A resource for adult men and women is the Cancer Service Program (CSP).

The New York State CSP provides breast, cervical and colorectal cancer screenings at no cost to men and women who:

Do not have health insurance or have health insurance that does not cover the cost of these screenings:

• Cannot pay for these screenings

• Meet income eligibility requirements

• Meet age requirements

• Live in New York State

To learn more about the New York State Cancer Services Program call 1-866-442-CANCER (2262) or click here.  Talk to your primary care doctor about the HPV vaccine and screenings. If you do not have a primary care doctor, contact your local health department.

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