Cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of cancer death for American women. But since 1955, the number of deaths from cervical cancer has declined substantially in the U.S., mainly due to the effectiveness of cervical cancer screening with the Pap test.
Now, a vaccine is helping further reduce rates of cervical cancer by preventing one of the most important risks for cervical cancer: the human papilloma virus (HPV).
What is HPV?
HPV is a sexually transmitted virus. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the US. Almost everyone who is sexually active will get HPV infection at some point in their life. Almost all (more than 99 percent) of cervical cancers are related to HPV. About 79 million Americans, most in their late teens and early 20s, have HPV.
HPV includes a group of more than 100 types of related viruses. About 40 types infect the genital area and are spread by skin to skin contact during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Genital HPV infection can occur even if you do not have intercourse. The types of HPV that cause genital warts are considered low-risk because they rarely develop into cancer. High-risk HPVs are linked to cervical cancer.
The HPV vaccine
The best way to protect against HPV infection is to get the HPV vaccine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of the HPV vaccine to reduce chances of infection from HPV that cause the majority of cervical cancers.
The HPV vaccine is given as a series of three shots over six months to protect against HPV infection and the health problems that HPV infection can cause.
Three vaccines (Gardasil 9, Gardasil, and Cervarix) protect against cervical cancers. All three protect against the two HPV types (16 and 18) that are the most common cause of cervical cancer and pre-cancer. The vaccines differ in the other HPV types they protect against.
The HPV vaccine is showing promise in reducing the cancer-causing HPV infection.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a study looking at the prevalence of HPV infections in girls and women before and after the introduction of the HPV vaccine shows a significant reduction in vaccine-type HPV in U.S. teens.
The study, published in [the June issue of] "The Journal of Infectious Diseases" reveals that, since the vaccine was introduced in 2006, vaccine-type HPV prevalence decreased 56 percent among female teenagers between the ages of 14 and 19 years old.
While not a cure for cancer, the HPV vaccine, Pap test and HPV screening are greatly reducing the incidence rates of cervical cancer in the United States. Talk to your doctor about what is the best course of action for you.
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- The ideal age for HPV vaccination is 11 - 12 years, but it can be given starting at 9 years and up to 26 years.
- The vaccine is recommended for both girls and boys.
If you do not get all three doses in a 6-month period, you do not have to “start over.” You can get the next dose you are due for even if the time between doses is longer than recommended.
Vaccines are given as a shot in the upper arm.
- All women should get Pap tests starting at age 21.
Woman who have been vaccinated still need to have regular cervical cancer screening.
Talk to your doctor about how often you need to have cervical cancer screening.
How often you should have cervical cancer screening and which tests you should have depend on your age and health history.
For more information about women's health services at The Christ Hospital, visit The Christ Hospital's women's health page .