There are many protective measures we need to consider when talking about gynecological care for preteens and teens, one of the most important being vaccines. The HPV vaccine is especially critical as it protects against cancers caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. The HPV virus may never even show itself; in fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people never even develop any symptoms or health problems. Nine out of ten infections will go away on their own within two years, but sometimes these infections last longer and cause certain diseases including cancers of the cervix, vagina, and vulva in women; cancers of the penis in men; and cancers of the anus and back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (oropharynx), in both women and men.
HPV is very common, with the CDC reporting that it currently affects nearly 80 million people, or one in four, in the United States, and causes 32,500 cases of cancers in men and women each year. The vaccination can prevent about 30,000 of these cancers from ever happening. With 14 million people, including teens, becoming infected with HPV each year, it is important that all children, both male and female ages 11 or 12, get two shots of HPV vaccine six to twelve months apart. Three shots over six months are recommended for children older than 14, and for those with immunocompromising conditions ages 9 through 26. In general, the CDC recommends that the vaccine is given to young women through the age of 26 and young men through the age of 21, as well as young adults who are transgender through the age of 26.
As a female obgyn in Plantation, Dr. Ghea feels strongly about making her patients aware and knowledgeable about this particular virus and how to prevent it. First of all, it’s important to know that HPV infections are incredibly common — so common that the CDC says that nearly everyone will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their life. It’s spread during intimate sexual contact, whether that be vaginal, anal or oral sex or other kinds of sex play. Many people may not even realize they have HPV, and therefore would not know whether they are passing it onto their sexual partners. Although uncommon, it’s also possible for a pregnant woman with HPV to pass it to her baby during delivery, and the child could develop recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP), a rare but dangerous condition where warts caused by HPV (similar to genital warts) grow inside the throat. The CDC notes that there are no documented cases of people getting HPV from environmental surfaces (i.e., toilet seats), but someone could be exposed to it from objects, such as toys, shared during sexual activity if the object was used by an infected person.
There are three vaccines that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), according to the National Cancer Institute: Gardasil®, Gardasil® 9, and Cervarix®. As of 2017, Gardasil 9 is the only vaccine available in the United States. It prevents infection with various HPV types including two high-risk HPVs that cause about 70% of cervical cancers and an even higher percentage of some of the other HPV-caused cancers, another that causes 90% of genital warts, and five additional cancer-causing types. Vaccines are highly effective when given before initial exposure to the virus, which is why it is given to young children before they have begun to engage in sexual activity.
The National Cancer Institute stresses that widespread HPV vaccination has the potential to reduce instances of cervical cancer by as much as 90%, a significant amount. It also could help reduce the need for screening and subsequent medical care, biopsies, and invasive procedures associated with follow-up from abnormal cervical screening, thus helping to reduce health care costs and anxieties related to follow-up procedures.
Now that there is an effective vaccine to prevent the introduction of the HPV virus into the body, there is no excuse not to take advantage of this. If you are looking for a female obgyn in Fort Lauderdale and its surrounding area, Dr. Ghea is the Fort Lauderdale obstetrician you should call. You can make an appointment with her at Westside OB/GYN Group, a Plantation obgyn office, by calling 954-473-2011 or requesting online.