There’s been plenty of media attention over the three letters “HPV” for a while, and today, I’m going to take a few minutes to share some information with the goal of clearing up any misconceptions people may have about it.
HPV stands for Human Papilloma Virus, and there are more than 120 strains of it. Approximately 15 of them are linked with cervical cancer, and other cancers, and approximately 12 strains can cause genital warts. What many people do not realize is that HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection and about 79 million Americans are currently infected. In fact, it’s so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives. It is spread during sex, and that can happen even when the infected person shows no symptoms.
That’s why the HPV vaccine is important. It was developed about a decade ago, and it protects against some of the high-risk HPV strains. Put simply: this vaccine can help prevent cancer from developing. The cancers related to HPV in some cases may take years or even decades to develop in a person’s body.
Part of the reason HPV has gained attention is because the target age for vaccination is 11-12 years old for girls and boys. HPV vaccination is most effective before sexual activity begins. However, the HPV vaccination still provides protection for women and men even if sexual activity has begun.
Cervical cytology testing, also called a Pap test, is a method to screen for cervical cancer in women and is also something we suggest. While HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer, it doesn’t cause all cervical cancers. Pap tests should begin at age 21. HPV testing is another recommended screening for women ages 30-65. The bottom line is the vaccine can help protect boys, girls, men and women from the most-common sexually transmitted infection.
That’s why we recommend the vaccination to parents so their children can be safe, regardless of the family’s perspective on premarital sexual relations. Our online Avera Health Library has more information you can read about HPV and its vaccine. I also recommend that parents talk to their physician about any questions they might have.