Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted disease that causes cervical cancer. As part of an effort to curb the spread of this virus and bring down the cervical cancer rate – which affects 13,000 women in the US each year and kills about 4,000 – two HPV vaccines were developed: Gardasil and Cervarix.
In concert with regular Pap smears, the vaccinations do seem to be helping, but there’s only a certain window of time in which a woman can receive these shots. Both vaccinations are only recommended for girls as young as nine up to women age 26.
What’s behind these age parameters?
It’s believed that the time before age 26 is when most women are exposed to the virus (of which there are 40 types), and the vaccine is only effective in preventing you from contracting certain HPV types. So, it’s recommended that girls receive the vaccine before becoming sexually active for full effectiveness, or as early as possible after becoming sexually active.
But while not recommended, women who are over 26 years old could still benefit from an HPV vaccine to protect them from any strain the vaccination is used for that they haven’t been exposed to yet. A woman who is over 26 and has had limited sexual contact is also a potential candidate for the vaccine.
If you’re interested in receiving the vaccine and you’re over 26 years old, ask your primary care physician or OB/GYN to discuss the pros and cons as related to your personal situation and health history. If your physician does not recommend the vaccine, your best protection against cervical cancer is to receive a Pap smear every two to three years (or more frequently if you receive positive results).
Have you received the vaccine? Or are you a mother who’s decided to have your daughter vaccinated? Tell us your thoughts below.
Sources: cdc.gov and washingtonpost.com