You’ve heard of it on the news, seen commercials about it on cable television, and spotted the posters in your doctor’s office. It seems like ads about Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and the HPV Vaccine are everywhere, but what exactly is it?
HPV is a term for a family of common viruses that people can pass to one another during sex. These viruses are so common that most people will contract an HPV infection at some point in their lives, but it usually clears up on its own. The danger comes when an ongoing HPV infection causes abnormal changes in the lining of a woman’s cervix. When these changes are not treated, they can lead to cervical cancer.
About 39.6% of men and women will receive a diagnosis of cancer at some point during their lives. Although HPV is most commonly associated with cervical cancer, it has also been strongly linked to other cancers in both men and women, including cancers in the mouth and throat, penis, anus, vagina, and vulva.
Luckily, there is a vaccine that helps the immune system fight and clear the HPV infection before it causes cancer. As with most vaccines, there are many common myths about the HPV vaccine that tend to circulate. Let’s break down some of these misconceptions and find the truth about this helpful vaccine.
Myth #1: The HPV vaccine is not safe or effective
The World Health Organization (WHO) Global Advisory Committee for Vaccine Safety (GACVS) has continuously reviewed the safety of Gardasil, the common HPV vaccine. WHO reported as recently as July 2017 that the vaccine has an excellent safety profile. As with all vaccines, some people experience effects after the injection such as redness, swelling, mild nausea, or a headache. However, these effects tend to pass quickly and are minimal when compared to the protection from cancer the vaccine provides.
Myth #2: Only women need the HPV vaccine
As both men and women can get HPV, anyone of any gender should get the vaccine for optimal protection. The HPV vaccine protects against approximately 90% of cervical cancers, but it also offers protection against many of the other cancers mentioned above to which HPV has been linked. It will provide protection against most genital cancers in men caused by HPV and against 90% of genital warts in both men and women.
Myth #3: You can only get the vaccine as an adolescent
While it is recommended that you receive the HPV vaccine when you are younger, anyone up to the age of 26 can get the vaccine. Doctors tend to advise getting the vaccine when you are younger because it works best if given before you are exposed to HPV through sexual activity. Research has also shown that young people create more antibodies to the vaccine than those in their late teens or early twenties, making it more effective in the younger crowd. While patients aged 14 and under need just two doses of the vaccine, patients over 14 years old will need an additional third dose.
Getting the HPV vaccine is just as important for your health as doing seven or more hours of physical activity per week, which has been shown to extend the life expectancy of adults. Make sure that you and your loved ones are doing everything you can to protect your health by getting the HPV vaccine and spreading these myth-busting facts to others. To find out more information about HPV, you can visit www.hpvalliance.ie.