What do cervical cancer, throat cancer, genital warts and cancer of the penis all have in common? A virus. Actually, the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a group of ‘wart’ viruses. Strains of HPV are passed easily between sexual partners, and once they invade the cells of a person’s genitals or throat, some of these strains may develop into cancer cells.
How to prevent contracting HPV
Immunization is the most effective method of preventing a HPV infection and Gardasil-9® (HPV-9) is active in preventing nine of these strains.
In Canada, many provinces are offering the HPV vaccine free of charge to all girls in Grades 5 or 6, and now to the boys, as well. In Alberta, most young people (male or female) age 18 and under can get the vaccine free of charge through the provincial public health program.
How often should you be vaccinated for HPV?
The HPV vaccine typically requires multiple doses. Most students ages 9 – 14 years will receive two doses, six months apart. For those 15 years and up, three doses may be recommended. Check with your healthcare provider to ensure you’re receiving the proper dosage for your circumstances.
Am I too old to get the HPV vaccine?
“The current vaccine is approved for women ages 9 through 45, based on clinical trial evidence, but there really isn’t an upper age limit for the vaccine. It may not create as robust an immune response if administered to an older patient, but there could still be a benefit, depending upon their circumstances,” says INLIV physician, Dr. Allison MacQueen.
Uninfected people who are starting sexual relationships at almost any stage in life should be immunized. There are a number of strains of HPV that may cause cancer and warts, so a woman or man with an existing infection should still be immunized.
If you’ve previously received an HPV vaccine and are considering getting the Gardasil-9 vaccine for greater protection, speak with your healthcare provider to discuss your circumstances.
What diseases will Gardasil-9 help prevent?
Gardasil-9 will help prevent almost all genital warts, cervical and penile cancers, and the new emergence of throat and mouth cancers.
How effective is the HPV-9 vaccine?
With proper dosage, Gardasil-9 is up to 99% effective in preventing HPV-related diseases from the nine strains of this vaccine, including:
- 90% of genital warts
- 95% of cervical cancers
- 97% of anal cancers
- 57% of penile cancers
- 85% of vaginal cancers
- 25% of head and neck cancers
The HPV vaccine is most effective for those immunized before they have any sexual contact, including oral sex.
Are there any side effects from the HPV vaccine?
As with many vaccines, side effects may occur though are usually mild and only last a few days. Symptoms may include:
- Tenderness at the injection point, swelling, and bruising
- Upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea
- Sore throat
“In rare cases, more serious reactions can occur. It’s important to remain at the clinic for 15 minutes after receiving your immunization to allow medical professionals to monitor any immediate side effects you may experience,” notes Dr. MacQueen.
HPV, cervical cancer and Pap tests for women
For years, the cause of cervical cancer was not known, but the connection was made when the HPV was discovered in the body when cervical cancer was detected. Ultimately, researchers determined that the human papilloma virus was the cause of the cancerous changes.
For women, it’s possible to contract the virus from your male sexual partners, though they may not show symptoms for years. However, within three years of contact, a woman could be showing signs of cervical cancer changes. For this reason, Pap tests are recommended for sexually active women at least every three years to detect and treat any early changes.
At INLIV, we are passionate about your health and wellness, including the prevention of HPV. Please speak with a member of our health team for additional information. We carry a supply of Gardasil-9 at INLIV (at prices comparable to any pharmacy) and our client coordinators will work with your medical team to schedule your immunizations.
Dr. Allison MacQueen attended medical school at the University of Alberta and is certified with the International Society of Travel Medicine and the North American Menopause Society. Within her role at INLIV, Dr. MacQueen works in our Total Health Management program, with a focus on travel medicine and women’s health. Combining her love of travel and medicine, she has volunteered as a physician in Peru, Haiti and Honduras.
– Dr. Allison MacQueen