A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

HPV vaccines can help prevent several types of cancers; debunking common misconceptions

Brooke Hudspeth
University of Kentucky

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital cancers and cancer of the throat, the base of the tongue, and tonsils. HPV vaccination is a safe and effective way to prevent over 90% of cancers caused by HPV, including anal, vaginal, cervical, and vulvar pre-cancers in both men and women.  
Cervical cancer was once a leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women in the United States, but since the introduction of the HPV vaccine in 2006, the American Cancer Society has reported a 65% reduction in cervical cancer rates. Because the vaccine is most effective before exposure to HPV through sexual activity, it is recommended that males and females aged 11-12 receive two doses 6-12 months apart.

If the HPV series is not completed during that time, it is still recommended for all adults through age 26. Adults aged 27-45 who are not vaccinated against HPV should discuss the potential benefits of HPV vaccination with their pharmacist or another healthcare provider.  
You can request the vaccine at your next well visit with a primary care provider or at most retail community pharmacies.  
Although exposure to HPV is prevalent in the United States, there are several common myths surrounding HPV and the HPV vaccine. A common misconception is that the HPV vaccination only protects females. The vaccine protects both males and females and can still be received after age 12, even if the individual has already been sexually active.

Another common myth is that an individual can skip cervical cancer screenings after receiving the HPV vaccine. The HPV vaccine is protective against the most common and high-risk forms of HPV but does not protect against all HPV strains. Maintaining regularly scheduled visits with your gynecologist to provide screening for cervical and other forms of cancer is essential.

This March, we encourage everyone to celebrate Women’s History Month by prioritizing women’s health. If you need a vaccine or have questions about the HPV vaccination, make sure to talk with your primary care provider or community pharmacist.

Brooke Hudspeth, Pharm.D., is associate professor and chief practice officer at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy

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