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Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and the HPV Vaccine

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most commonly sexually transmitted disease in the United States. At least 50% of sexually active women and men get the genital form of HPV at some time in their lives. Of the approximately 6 million new cases of genital HPV in the United States every year, it is estimated that 74% occur in 15-24 year olds. Therefore, both high school and college students are particularly at risk for acquiring HPV.

There are both low- and high-risk types of HPV.

  • Low-risk types of HPV can cause genital warts
  • High-risk HPV is the most important risk factor for cervical cancer

How can I find out if I have an HPV infection?

An HPV infection can be detected by having your doctor conduct a Pap test. To do a Pap test, your doctor will use a small brush to remove cells from your cervix. This is a painless and simple procedure that is the best way to find out whether your cervix is healthy.

How often should I get a Pap Test?

Women should get Pap tests every 1 - 3 years if they have been sexually active or if they are over 21 years of age. Some experts have different opinions about how often a woman should receive a Pap test. You should speak to your doctor or nurse practitioner to find out how frequently you should receive a Pap test.

Can HPV be treated?

There is no treatment or cure for HPV itself. However, there are treatments for abnormal cells on the cervix. These treatments include cryo-surgery in which abnormal tissue is frozen off; a LEEP procedure in which tissue is removed using a loop; laser treatment and a cone biopsy. It is very important that you follow through on your health care providers recommendation to treat genital warts and pre-cancerous changes in the cervix. Cervical abnormalities can lead to cervical cancer.

What is the HPV vaccine?

In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) licensed the first vaccine developed to prevent cervical cancer and other diseases in females caused by some types of genital HPV. The HPV vaccine has been tested in over 11,000 females around the world, and it has been found to be safe in that it caused no serious side effects. Currently, Gardasil is the only vaccine that may help guard against diseases that are caused by some HPV types.

Who should get the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine is recommended for females aged 11-26, ideally administered before the onset of sexual activity. Girls as young as 9 years of age can receive the HPV vaccine. However, females who are sexually active may also benefit from the vaccination if they have not been infected with any HPV type. Therefore, whether or not you are sexually active it is recommended that you discuss this vaccine with your health care provider.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control (CDC), HPV and HPV Vaccine, August, 2006.
Information about Gardasil: http://www.gardasil.com/

Resources:

To find out more information about HPV, the HPV vaccine and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), you may consult the following resources:

Iona College Health Services  (914) 633-2548
Westchester County Health Department
New Rochelle Office, 145 Huguenot Street  (914) 813-5000
National Womens Health Information Center  (800) 994-9662
Internet Address: http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/human-papillomavirus.cfm
National Cancer Institute/HPV Vaccines for Cervical Cancer  (800) 422-6237
Internet Address: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/prevention/HPV-vaccine
Centers for Disease Control (CDC): http://www.cdc.gov/std/healthcomm/fact_sheets.htm