Vaccine Can Protect Teen Girls From HPV Virus

Can you be immunized against cervical cancer? Now, girls and young women have the option - but most of them are not taking it.

A series of three shots can protect against human papillomavirus (HPV), a virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer. The disease strikes 12,000 American women each year, and 4,000 die. But according to the latest national statistics, less than half of American teen girls have gotten even one HPV shot. Less than one-third have gotten all three.

The U.S. government recommends that all girls age 11 or 12 get the vaccination. Girls as young as 9 can get immunized, as can women age 26 and younger. Males ages 9 to 26 also can get the shots to protect against genital warts and anal cancer.

“HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States,” says pediatrician Andrew Hertz, MD, Medical Director of the UH Rainbow Care Network. “In fact, many people never know they have the virus at all since it often has no symptoms.” However, in some women, certain strains of HPV cause changes to the cells in the cervix, which then can become cancerous.

Keep in mind that most women with HPV will never get cervical cancer. But the following risk factors increase the likelihood of getting cervical cancer:

  • Long-term oral contraceptive use
  • Having many sexual partners
  • Smoking
  • Having multiple, full-term pregnancies

There is no cure for HPV, but there is a highly effective treatment for the pre-cancerous cells it can cause. “The key is early detection,” Dr. Hertz says. “Regular Pap screenings can successfully identify early warning cells for treatment before they have the chance to turn cancerous.”

hertz-andrew Andrew Hertz, MD,
Medical Director
UH Rainbow Care Network
Clinical Assistant Professor
Case Western University School of Medicine

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