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HPV Vaccine Now Approved Up to Age 45; Lourdes Gynecological Oncologist Stresses Importance of Vaccinating all Those Eligible

Medical experts say that genital strains of HPV, the human papillomavirus, is so widespread that almost all sexually active people—not just those promiscuous—will be infected at some point.

While most HPV infections are wiped out by the immune system, high-risk strains can persist and cause cancer, including cervical, vaginal, anal, penile, and oral cancer.

That’s why when the FDA approved the HPV vaccine Gardasil 9 for use in males and females ages 9 through 45 in fall 2018, the medical community embraced the good news. Previously, the vaccine was only approved through age 26.

Gardasil 9 has been shown to prevent cancers and other diseases caused by the 9 types of HPV.

“Extending the age of males and females eligible for the HPV vaccine gives us a crucial opportunity to help prevent HPV-related cancers in a broader age group,” said Howard Saul, DO, FACOG.  “HPV has more than 150 strains. Extending the age also means that even if adults have been exposed or even diagnosed with one strain of HPV, they can still be given protection from others.”

The new approved age eligibility brings the United States in line with markets including Europe and Canada.

There are more than 200,000 cases pre-cancerous cervical dysplasia and more than 3,000,000 cases of genital warts in the US every year.

Before the introduction of the pap smear, cervical cancer was the most common cause of cancer deaths in women in the US. Now, when diagnosed at an early stage, there is a 90 percent cure rate and women can still preserve their reproductive ability, said Dr. Saul.

“When it comes to HPV, the key is to protect yourself,” advised Dr. Saul. “First, get vaccinated. HPV-related cancers, pre-cancers and genital warts can be prevented by the vaccine. Second, stop smoking. Cigarette smoking is a very important co-factor in the development of cervical cancer, as well as other HPV-related diseases. Lastly, get your routine gynecological and cervical cancer screenings.”

Dr. Saul stresses that while girls are more often associated with being at risk for HPV causing cervical cancer, boys must be vaccinated as well. “To have the maximum benefit, you have to vaccinate both males and females. The more people we can vaccinate—both boys and girls, from ages 9 to 45, then we will prevent more cancers and offer more protection for the community in general.”

Dr. Saul offers another perspective. “We put on a seatbelt to protect ourselves in case of a car accident. The HPV vaccine is no different when it comes to cervical cancer,” said Dr. Saul. “If you have any questions, talk to your doctor.”

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