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Who should get the HPV vaccine?

Gritman physician discusses cervical health

Dr. Kusko

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It is a virus that can be spread through skin-to-skin genital contact. There are many different types of HPV. Some types cause genital warts and are called low-risk. And some types can lead to cervical, anal or oral cancer and are called high-risk. There is no known cure for HPV, but there is a vaccine that can protect against some types of the virus.

January is Cervical Health Awareness month, so we took some time to visit about the topic with Dr. Meghan Kusko, a family practice physician specializing in obstetrics at Gritman’s Moscow Family Medicine.

Question: Should women get cervical cancer screenings?

Answer: I recommend that women 21-30 years of age have pap smears every three years. At age 30, it is every five years until 65.

Screenings are important because if you can save someone’s life, that is huge. Cervical cancer is a rare and slow-growing cancer. When it is detected it can take several years for it to become an invasive cancer that can really harm you. We only screen for cancers/diseases that if detected early we could get rid of and allow a woman to live a longer life.

Q: How common is HPV?

A: HPV is super common. An estimated 80 percent of men and women who are sexually active will have HPV at some point in their lifetimes. It is a widespread and rampant virus.

Q: Should I get the HVP vaccine?

It’s one of the only vaccines we have to prevent cancer. If you can prevent cancer, why wouldn’t you?

Initially, it was just a bivalent vaccine (works by stimulating an immune response against two different antigens, such as viruses) that just covered two strains of HPV, but now it is quadrivalent and it covers the four most common strains that cause cervical cancer.

Q: What happens if I get HPV?

People who have HPV always wonder, “Am I ever going to get rid of this?” I tell my patients HPV is like a cervical flu in a way. Most people get the flu and they’re sick for a period of time and then it goes away, and that is what HPV is like most of the time. In most cases, HPV is cleared by the body naturally in 1-2 years. But in some people, for a reason we don’t quite understand, it does not go away, and when it stays and sticks around the cervix, that’s when it can cause cervical cancer.

Q: When should women get the vaccine?

A: The question should be when should men and women get the vaccine.

It can be given starting at age 9, but it is routinely recommended for all adolescents starting at age 11 and before they are sexually active.

Q: Why should men get the vaccine?

A: Although men aren’t at risk for getting cervical cancer, they are at risk of transmitting the virus to a woman, and then that woman is at risk for getting cervical cancer.

Learn more about HPV and the HPV vaccine from our online clinic.