Guest Author - Dr. Denise Howard
The identification of HPV as the causative agent for the majority of cervical cancers and a large percentage of other genital cancers has paved the way for the development of preventative strategies. The vaccine has been the primary weapon used to battle infectious diseases and this is applicable to HPV infection as well.
Currently there are 2 HPV vaccinations available: a quadrivalent type named Gardasil and a bivalent type called Cervirax. The quadrivalent vaccine is designed to protect against infection from HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18 while the bivalent vaccines protects against types 16 and 18. The quadrivalent vaccine was designed to prevent infection from the viruses that contributes to the majority of the precancerous cervical lesions as well as the genital warts. The bivalent vaccine focuses on cervical cancer prevention only.
The vaccinations have proven to be 97-100% effective in the prevention of cervical cancer. The quadrivalent vaccine has also been shown to prevent 99-100% of genital warts and other precancerous lesions of the female genital tract. These vaccines are recommended for girls starting at age 11-12 and the quadrivalent vaccine is recommended for boys of the same age. The vaccine can be started as early as age 9 and should be offered as a catch up for all candidates through age 26. There are some potential benefits for women who fall outside this range and studies are currently underway to address other groups.
The vaccine is typically given in a series, similar to other vaccinations. After the initial injection, the 2nd vaccine should be administered in 2 months and the last should be given 6 months after the first vaccine. The side effects are similar to other vaccines and include both local and systemic symptoms. The local symptoms occur between 1 and 5 days post injection and include pain, swelling, erythema, itching and hematoma at the injection site. The systemic symptoms can occur with 1 to 15 days post injection and include headache, fever, body aches, nausea and dizziness. The headaches were reported in approximately 20% and the other symptoms occurred in less than 10%.
Does the vaccine provide life-long protection or does it need to be repeated in the future? This is a commonly asked question and the vaccine trials were designed to answer it. Immune memory describes the bodyís reaction when it sees an infectious agent to which it has previously been exposed. Typically the immune systemís response is rapid and strong. It produces a high level of antibodies to fight this recognizable foe. The HPV vaccine studies showed that after 5 years the level of detectable antibodies was quite low but if the body is shown a portion of the HPV virus the reaction is immediate. The level of antibodies produced is even higher than the initial response seen after completing the vaccination series.
Vaccinations have been widely used for over a century and even longer for select infections. They are an effective means of primary prevention and the HPV vaccine has been proven to work in the same fashion. This is the strongest weapon available in the battle to prevent cervical cancer and it has the potential to even eradicate this cancer. All women and girls should take advantage of this preventative method.
I hope this article has provided you with information that will help you make wise choices, so you may:
Live healthy, live well and live long!