Gardasil: An HPV Vaccine to Prevent Cervical Cancers and Genital Warts
Human papillomavirus HPV is a virus that can cause genital warts, anal cancer, penile cancer, and cervical cancer. It is considered a sexually transmitted disease (STD). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that girls and boys aged 11-12 years old be vaccinated against HPV. Boys can be vaccinated with Gardasil 9 to protect them against HPV-caused penile cancer, anal cancer, precancerous anal lesions, and genital warts. Girls can be vaccinated with Gardasil 9, which protects them against HPV-caused cervical, vulvar, vaginal, and anal cancers and precancerous lesions as well as genital warts. Until late 2016, other vaccines (Gardasil and Cervarix) were available in the US. Although Gardasil 9 is the only one available in the US, but the others may be found in other parts of the world.
Gardasil 9 is the first vaccine designed to prevent both genital warts and cervical cancer caused by HPV. The vaccine is a product of genetic engineering and is considered safe. Gardasil 9 does not contain HPV. Rather, it uses a harmless viral protein to stimulate the immune system and create resistance against the virus. It is, therefore, not possible to become infected with HPV from the vaccine.
Gardasil 9 is recommended for girls and boys between 11-12 years old. For the vaccine to be most effective, adolescents should complete the series before their first sexual contact in order to have time for an immune response to develop. The vaccine may be given starting at 9 years old.
If you did not receive the vaccine when you were younger, recommendations for the HPV vaccine series include:
- Girls and women aged 13-26 years old, especially those with a suppressed immune system
- Boys and men aged 13-21 years old
- Men aged 22-26 years old if they are gay, bisexual, or have a suppressed immune system
- Transgender persons aged 22-26 years old
Although it is not specifically recommended, men aged 22-26 years old can also get the vaccine.
What Else Should I Know About Gardasil 9?
Gardasil 9 is not a treatment, but a prevention measure. The vaccine will not help those who already have HPV. However, most people do not contract all 40 types of HPV at the same time, so the immunization would still be recommended as a preventive measure against the HPV types that a woman or man does not have.
Also, Gardasil 9 does not prevent infection with the other HPV types that are not contained in the vaccine. Therefore, the vaccine does not replace the need for routine Pap smears to screen for cervical dysplasia (a precancerous condition) and cancer in women. Women and girls severely allergic to yeast should not be immunized with Gardasil 9. Also, the product is not recommended for pregnant women.
More on HPV
The HPV lives on the skin or mucous membranes of infected people. There are often no symptoms of HPV and many cases go away on their own. Although the body’s immune system is often effective in getting rid of many types of HPV, other types of HPV can cause genital warts and, more seriously, cervical, penile, or anal cancer. Fortunately, the vast majority of HPV infections do not lead to cancer.
The transmission rate of HPV is high because most people who are infected do not know that they have HPV and, therefore, do not take necessary precautions. Even more importantly, HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact and not via blood or bodily fluids, like most other STDs. Anyone who has ever been sexually active has the risk of getting and passing on HPV. Because there are no symptoms, a person can have HPV for years and not know they are transmitting it. Condoms are not entirely effective in preventing HPV infection because areas that are not covered may be infected. However, using latex condoms has been associated with a lower rate of HPV infection in women.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Cancer Institute
Sex Information & Education Council of Canada
Women's Health Matters
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Last reviewed May 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 5/9/2017