Why are human papillomaviruses (HPV) vaccines important?

Each year, more than 11,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States, and nearly 4,000 die. Most of these deaths could be prevented if women had tests to detect cervical precancer or cancer early. The most important risk factor for developing cervical cancer is persistent infection with a high risk type of Human Papillomavirus (HPV).

HPV is a group of viruses that are transmitted to both males and females through genital contact. These viruses can cause small genital or anal warts (papillomas), as well as changes that can progress to cancer. HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer, and in 2006, the FDA licensed the first vaccine against the virus, which is now recommended for women ages 11 to 26.

Widespread human papillomaviruses (HPV) vaccination has the potential to reduce cervical cancer deaths around the world by as much as two-thirds, if all women were to get the vaccine and if protection turns out to be long-term. In addition, the vaccines can reduce the need for medical care, biopsies and invasive procedures associated with follow-up from abnormal Pap tests, thus helping to reduce health care costs and anxieties related to abnormal Pap tests and follow-up procedures.

This answer is based on source information from the National Cancer Institute.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines are important because of HPV’s relationship to cancer. Vaccinating against HPV is the best prevention for cancers caused by HPV.

Human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccines are important for both boys and girls to get because genital human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States. Nearly 20 million people in the United States are infected, and about 6.2 million more become infected each year, with more than 50 percent of sexually active men and women infected with HPV at some time in their lives. Most HPV infections do not cause any symptoms, and go away on their own. However, HPV can cause cervical cancer in women. HPV can cause genital warts and warts in the oral and upper respiratory tract in both men and women. HPV is also associated with several less common types of cancer in both men and women. There is no treatment for an HPV infection, but many of the conditions it causes can be treated. The HPV vaccine is approved for girls and boys ages 9 to 26. Only Gardasil has been approved for use in males.

Dr. Diane Harper
Health Education Specialist

Gardasil and Cervarix are the two current prophylactic HPV vaccines. Neither of these vaccines will prevent cervical cancer if they do not last at least 15 years. At this time, we have randomized controlled trials to show that Gardasil lasts 5 years and Cervarix lasts 9.4 years.

Gardasil loses antibodies for HPV 18 very fast. In females, 35 percent of women have lost all detectable antibodies to HPV 18 by 5 years. In males, 38 percent of men have lost all detectable antibodies to HPV 18 by 2 years. This makes Gardasil's cancer fighting capacity essentially limited to HPV 16.

Cervarix protects against 7 cancer causing types of HPV with evidence that protection against HPV 16 and 18 lasts at least 9.4 years and that the protection against the other five types lasts at least 4 years.

The importance of the HPV vaccines is to reduce the chances of having an abnormal Pap test.

If you do not continue to get Pap tests done on a regular basis, just having HPV vaccination will not protect you from all cervical cancers.

HPV vaccines are an option, not a replacement for Pap testing.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.