Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted disease causing genital warts and cervical cancer, as well as cancers of the vulva, vagina and anus. An estimated 10,000 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.
Since HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact, condom use does not provide complete protection, as it does not cover all skin in contact during intercourse. Approximately 70 percent of sexually active adults will contract HPV during their life. Most individuals infected with HPV have no signs or symptoms of the disease and clear the infection within one to two years. However, it can persist in about 10 percent of females, putting them at risk for cervical cancer.
Virtually all cervical cancers are caused by 15 strains of HPV. Gardasil and Cervaix are two commercially available vaccines that provide protection against HPV 16 and HPV 18, two high-risk strains causing 70 percent of cervical cancers. Vaccines are administered with three injections over the course of six months. The vaccines can be offered to females ages 9 to 26, preferably before becoming sexually active as they are most effective prior to exposure to HPV.
However, females who have been sexually active and/or infected with HPV should still be vaccinated in an effort to prevent future infections. Pregnant women should not receive the vaccine as there is limited data about its safety in relation to pregnancy.
In 2009, the FDA approved immunization of males, also ages 9 to 26, to reduce the risk of anal and penile cancers caused by HPV as well as transmission of the virus to their female partners. Even after immunization, women 21 and older should continue routine cervical cancer screening with a pap smear. The test has proven to reduce cervical cancer by 70 percent.
• Dr. Brock Jackson is an OB/GYN on staff at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center. For more information on this topic, talk with your doctor, or call Jackson's Ahwatukee Foothills office at (480) 759-9191.