HPV Vaccine: No Longer Just for Teens

Medical Vial with HPV Vaccine

Human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S., affects 1 in 4 people – many of whom are teenagers. While many people believe that teens are the only segment of the population impacted by this virus, new reports indicate that it can infect people from every walk of life, race, gender and demographic, up to age 45.

The reason? HPV takes a long time to turn a healthy cell into a cancer cell – sometimes 10 years or longer. And despite being in a monogamous relationship, adults up to age 45 can still be diagnosed with the infection. Further, HPV has the potential to cause cancers of the cervix, penis, anus and larynx, as well as pre-cancer diseases.

Fortunately, a safe, effective vaccination significantly decreases the risk for all of these age groups.

“People are being diagnosed with HPV-related cancers as early as their 20s, through their 40s and 50s, and even later. The FDA recently approved the expanded use of the HPV vaccine to include individuals through age 45,” said Caroline Billingsley, MD, a UC Health gynecologic oncologist and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

The good news is that while the numbers of cervical cancer cases are not increasing, UC Health physicians are seeing a reduction in the number of infections and HPV pre-cancers in young people since the vaccination became available.

“The goal is to reduce the HPV virus and prevent, or lessen, the incidence of related cancers in males and females of current and future generations,” Dr. Billingsley said.

Dispelling the Myths

Is the vaccine safe?

– Yes, it is safe and effective. Like any medication, the HPV vaccine can cause minor injection related side effects (fever, swelling, and discomfort at injection site), however, they should subside quickly.

Should I be worried about my teen being more sexually promiscuous?

– Studies have shown that receiving the HPV vaccine does not make teenagers more likely to start having sex.

Can this vaccine cause infertility?

– There is no evidence to suggest that receiving this vaccine will have an effect on future fertility.

Discover more at uchealth.com/cancer.

Caroline Billingsley, MD
Gynecologic oncologist at UC Health and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

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