Sexually Speaking with Alexis McCabe

Dear Alexis, Someone told me that there is a vaccine for HPV. Is this true? Also, does HPV cause cervical cancer? If there is a vaccine, where can you get it?

-Vaccine vixen

Dear Vixen,

A vaccine has been created to prevent cervical cancer and other diseases in females caused by HPV (human papillomavirus). The vaccine, called Gardasil, protects against four types of HPV, which together cause 70 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently licensed this vaccine for use in girls and women 9 to 26 years old.

The vaccine is given through a series of three shots over a six-month period. It is not yet known if the vaccine would benefit males, but studies are now being done to find out.

It is important to note that the vaccine does not protect against all forms of HPV, so it is still important for females to get screened for cervical cancer regularly. Some types of HPV can infect a woman’s cervix and cause the cells to change. Usually, HPV goes away on its own and the cervix cells go back to normal. But sometimes, HPV does not go away and continues to change the cells on a woman’s cervix.

These cell changes are referred to as ‘precancers’ and can lead to cancer over time if left untreated.

The vaccine is a great breakthrough considering how common HPV is. At least 50 percent of sexually active people will get HPV at some time in their lives. Every year in the United States, approximately 6.2 million people get HPV. It is most common in young women and men who are in their late teens and early 20s.

Anyone who has ever had genital contact with another person can get HPV. Both men and women can get it and pass it on to their sex partners without realizing it.

The only downside to the vaccine is its price. Since it is so new, many insurance companies do not cover it yet. The retail price of the vaccine is $120 per dose, or $360 for the full series. VCF (Vaccines for Children) will cover the vaccine for children and teens under 19 years of age, and some states also provide free or low cost vaccines at public health department clinics to people without health insurance coverage for vaccines. As more results arise from the studies and more is known about the vaccine, it should eventually come down in price and be covered by more insurance companies.

Be safe and have fun!