January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and you’ve probably heard of the HPV vaccine. Researchers with The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention estimate it prevents more than 90% of the cancers caused by HPV.
Despite this news and the broad publicity the vaccine receives, there is still a great deal of misunderstanding surrounding who should get it, when and why. In fact, recent research from the CDC suggests that more and more parents understand the importance of the vaccine, but not enough people are getting vaccinated.
So, in honor of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and the continuous effort to educate people about the vaccine, we thought we’d help. We wanted to clear up some of the confusion by sharing six things you need to know about the HPV vaccine.
While the large majority of human papillomavirus infections are low-risk and will naturally go away within two years, some cases can be quite dangerous. A high-risk HPV infection can lead to multiple types of cancer for both sexes, including cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers for women, penile cancer in men, and anal and throat cancer in both.
The CDC estimates that 14 million people become infected with HPV each year and that at least 4 out of every 5 women will have been infected at one point in their life by age 50. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States.
The CDC recommends that all children receive the HPV vaccine starting at age 11 or 12. However, older children and young adults who didn’t receive the vaccine when they were younger are still eligible to get vaccinated through age 26 for women and age 21 for men.
But in 2019 a federal advisory group expanded recommendations to include men through age 26 and some older adults.
Gardasil targets HPV types 16, 18, 6 and 11. Types 16 and 18 are responsible for an estimated 70% of cervical cancers and Types 6 and 11 are known to cause up to 90% of genital warts.
The most common HPV-attributable cancers are cervical and oropharyngeal cancer, but you can’t get HPV or cancer from the vaccine.