The vaccine that prevents cervical cancer and other diseases has now been approved for women up to age 46.
Until last month, one form of the vaccine, called Gardasil 9 and manufactured by Merck, was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for women up to age 26. The original HPV vaccine Gardasil was approved in 2006 and covered four strains, but Gardasil 9 covers the nine more prevalent strains of HPV.
Inoculating more women who are older will be productive in reducing rates of disease, experts say.
“This is an opportunity to help prevent many cases of cervical cancer,” said Laurie McKechnie, a Nurse Practitioner at Lynn Women’s Health. “We have seen a lot of progress in terms of preventing the spread of HPV with this vaccine.”
The human papillomavirus can cause genital warts and cancers of the vulva, anus, penis and parts of the throat.
“The best time to vaccinate is prior to any sexual exposure,” McKechnie said. “But the vaccine will still provide coverage even if someone has been sexually active or had prior exposure to the HPV virus.”
McKechnie added that offering the vaccine to women up to age 46 will likely prevent persistent infection, genital warts, precancerous cervical lesions and HPV related cervical cancers.
The American Cancer Society recommends girls and boys start getting the vaccine, a series of two or three shots depending on the age started, at age 11 or 12. The vaccine causes a better immune response at this age than during the teenage years. Children are also likely still seeing their doctor regularly and getting other vaccinations at this age.
The sexually-transmitted virus has several strains and many adults have encountered at least one of the strains. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about 79 million Americans have HPV, with 14 million being newly affected each year.
Rates of cervical cancer declined slightly with the introduction of the Pap test, which finds precancerous cells.
The HPV vaccine protects against nine strains, including those most likely to cause cancers and genital warts.
Cervical cancer kills more women than many other forms of cancer and frequently presents in mid-life (from age 34 to 44). About 13,240 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed, according to statistics from the American Cancer Society. Of those, about 4,170 will die from cervical cancer.
“It’s so important to be vigilant about preventing all sexually transmitted diseases,” McKechnie said. “This is one effective tool we have in the arsenal of prevention.”
For more information on Gardasil, HPV, or prevention of other sexually transmitted infections, speak with your Lahey Health provider.