The HPV Vaccine for Teens and Preteens
In most cases, when someone becomes infected with HPV, the body fights off the infection on its own before serious health problems develop. However, some infections persist for years. These persistent infections can cause changes in your body’s cells that could progress to cancer over time.
In women, HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer. But HPV is associated with other cancers as well, including cancers of the anus, vagina, vulva, penis, and oropharynx (the middle part of the throat that includes the soft palate, the base of the tongue, and the tonsils).
Some types of HPVs are more dangerous than others. To help distinguish between them, scientists divide the 40 or so strains that can cause genital infections into two categories -- those that are low risk and those that are high risk. The high-risk HPVs are the ones that can cause cancer. Those in the low-risk category, on the other hand, rarely lead to cancer.
There aren’t a whole lot of HPVs that are considered high risk -- scientists have currently detected a little over a dozen. Of those, two (types 16 and 18) cause about 70 percent of cervical cancers in women and anal cancers in men. The HPV types that cause genital warts (mainly types 6 and 11) are actually considered low risk. Genital warts will not cause cancer.
But the high-risk HPVs don’t usually cause symptoms, though they can be detected through a medical test, which means you may be infected and at risk for cervical or other cancers and not even know it.
Preventing an HPV infection is an important step in reducing the risk for cervical cancer and other types of cancer. Like other sexually transmitted infections, condoms are just part of the story -- while they can help protect against HPV and other sexually transmitted infections, they aren’t 100 percent effective.
There are currently two HPV vaccinations that help protect against an HPV infection. While they don’t offer protection against all HPV types, both vaccines protect against the high-risk types that cause about 70 percent of cervical cancer. You cannot get an infection from the HPV vaccine.
The first vaccine, Gardasil® (Quadrivalent Human Papillomavirus [Types 6, 11, 16, and 18] Recombinant Vaccine), was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in June 2006. It protects against HPV types 16 and 18, the most common causes of cervical cancer. It also protects against HPV types 6 and 11 -- the main causes of genital warts. Gardasil is manufactured by Merck & Co., Inc. It is approved for use in females and males ages 9 to 26.
Three years later, in October 2009, the FDA approved the second HPV vaccine: Cervarix® (Human Papillomavirus Bivalent [Types 16 and 18] Vaccine, Recombinant). Like Gardasil, Cervarix protects against the two types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers (types 16 and 18). However, Cervarix does not provide protection against HPV types 6 and 11 and, therefore, is not approved to prevent genital warts. Another key difference between the two products is that Cervarix is only approved for use in girls ages 9 to 25.