HPV, or human papillomavirus, causes a number of infections, most of which are transmitted sexually. The virus, apart from causing genital warts and infections, can even cause cancers such as cervical cancer, vaginal cancer, or anal cancer. HPV is responsible for most cases of cervical cancer, and a person can get the virus by having sexual contact with someone who already has the human papillomavirus.
Most adults are at some time in their lives infected with the human papillomavirus, but most of the time the infection goes away on its own and might not come to their notice, states Dr. Alexander Salerno. However, sometimes the infection leads to serious conditions such as cervical cancer, which is why regular screening via Pap tests and HPV vaccination are advised to help prevent the cancer.
In a Pap test, a few cells are collected from the cervix and then microscopically examined to look for signs of cervical cancer in its precancerous or early stages. Women over the age of 21 can get the test done once every two years, and those over 30 with previously normal screenings can screen once every 3 years, notes Alexander Salerno, MD.
The Pap test is a safe screening method, but to ensure even further prevention against cervical cancer, women must opt for vaccination with the HPV vaccine in order to be immunized. There are many types of HPV strains that cause infections, but the HPV vaccine provides protection against the main four types of HPV, which cause about 70% of cervical cancers.
Usefulness and Effectiveness of the HPV Vaccine in Treating Cervical Cancer
The HPV vaccine is a powerful protection against cervical cancer, and it is believed that widespread HPV immunization can considerably lower the incidence of cervical cancer worldwide.
Dr. Salerno says that the HPV vaccine is highly effective when given before a person can be exposed to and infected with the human papillomavirus—this is when the person is not yet sexually active. That is why the vaccine is recommended for girls as young as 9 through the age of 26. The drawback, however, is that the vaccine does not provide protection against an already present infection, and all types of HPV strains are not restricted by the vaccine.
Of the two types of HPV vaccines available, one type is exclusively for girls, and the other can be given to both girls and boys, which is helpful because if boys are immunized against HPV infections, it decreases the probability of transmitting the virus to girls via sexual contact. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention beats a pound of treatment! Vaccinating men can also reduce the chances of anal cancer and genital warts in men and women.
The HPV vaccine is highly effective against human papillomavirus types 6, 11, 16, and 18, which are responsible for about 70% of all cervical cancers and 90% of genital warts, and the vaccine reduced the risk of high-grade cervical lesions caused by these types by almost 19%. However, the downside of the vaccine is that it does not protect against all types of HPV, and thus the strains responsible for 30% of cervical cancer cases can be detected with regular screenings and Pap tests.
Overall, the HPV vaccine is a safe, effective, and powerful form of protection against cervical cancer risks.
Since 2001, Dr. Alexander G. Salerno has led Salerno Medical Associates in East Orange, New Jersey. Dr. Alexander Salerno focuses largely on urban communities and on delivering patient education about both medical and behavioral health issues.