Are you protected from HPV?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted virus. Nearly all sexually active men and women are infected with the virus at some point in their lives, but most have no symptoms or negative effects. In some cases, however, the infection can linger over time and cause cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, cervical cancer in particular is almost always caused by HPV infection.

So does that mean men aren’t at risk for developing cancer if they have HPV? No. Actor Michael Douglas recently drew attention to HPV cancers in men when he announced that his throat cancer was caused by the virus. In fact, HPV-related cancers affecting both women and men are increasing in the United States, and few men are getting the vaccine that could protect them.

The vaccine Gardasil prevents certain types of human papillomavirus that have been shown to lead to cancer. Doctors estimate the vaccine could prevent about 70 percent of cervical cancer cases, and while cervical cancer rates are dropping, oropharyngeal and anal cancers are on the rise.

Many people either don’t know about Gardasil or don’t get the required three shots. And many don’t know that the vaccine is approved not only for girls and women, but also for boys and young men.

Paige Hertweck, M.D., pediatric gynecologist at Kosair Children’s Hospital, says it’s important for parents to have a conversation with their health care provider about recommendations for getting their child vaccinated.

The vaccine does not treat existing infection; the recommended age for getting the vaccine is between 9 and 26, before sexual contact. Norton Healthcare pediatricians, gynecologists and primary care physicians offer the vaccine.

To learn more about HPV or to find a doctor, visit our Find a Doctor or call (502) 629-1234.