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Topics > Healthy Outlook > Vaccine Recommended to Prevent Cervical Cancer

Vaccine Recommended to Prevent Cervical Cancer

Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Fri, Jan. 19, 2007

By Erika Jenssen, MPH

DID YOU KNOW that your preteen daughter or granddaughter can get a vaccine now to help prevent her from getting cervical cancer later in life? The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently began recommending the cervical cancer vaccine for girls ages 11-12 years.

Most people don't realize that most cervical cancer is caused by a sexually transmitted virus called the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the U.S. More than 50 percent of sexually active men and women will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives. Most HPV infections don't cause any symptoms and go away on their own. But some eventually lead to cervical cancer in women.

About 10,000 women in the U.S. get cervical cancer each year and about 3,700 die of it. HPV also causes genital warts and other less common types of cancer in both sexes. The new vaccine can prevent infection with the human papillomavirus and therefore most cases of cervical cancer.

The HPV vaccine is now available at Contra Costa Health Services' (CCHS) Public Health Immunization Clinics throughout the County. Jan. 21-27 is "Preteen Vaccine Week," a good time to consider HPV vaccine for adolescent girls.

What is the HPV vaccine and how is it given? "The vaccine protects against four major types of HPV, including two types that cause about 70 percent of cervical cancer.

The HPV vaccine is given as a three-dose series over six months. Protection from the vaccine is expected to be long-lasting but the duration isn't exactly known.

Women still need regular cervical cancer screening (Pap smears) because of this and because the vaccine doesn't protect against all HPV types.

Who should get the HPV vaccine and when? The HPV vaccine is recommended for girls 11 and 12 years old, but can be given to girls and women ages 9-26.

The best time for girls to get the HPV vaccine is before their first sexual contact. However, the vaccine is still recommended for those who are sexually active.

If someone is already infected with a type of HPV that's in the vaccine, it won't cure it. The vaccine has been extensively tested in 9-26 year-old females so information is only available about vaccine safety and protection for this group. However, studies are under way on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine for boys, men and older women.

How much does the HPV vaccine cost and where is it available? Talk to your health-care provider to see if he/she is offering the vaccine. Some HMOs cover the vaccine cost.

The Public Health Immunization Clinics offer the vaccine for $10 a dose for girls 18 and under, and $140 a dose for women 19-26.

What are the risks from the HPV vaccine? The HPV vaccine doesn't appear to cause any serious side effects, but like any medicine there is a small chance of an allergic reaction. People who should not get the HPV vaccine include those with severe yeast allergies and pregnant women.

Erika Jenssen is the Immunization Coordinator for Contra Costa Public Health. Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at theairdoctor@gmail.com. For more health information, go to www.cchealth.org.


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