Mystie Johnson, MD, is a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist on staff at Banner Estrella Medical Center.
Question: I am 20 years old and some of my friends have told me that I can get a shot to keep me from getting cervical cancer. Is that true?
Answer: What your friends are talking about is the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine, which is actually a series of three shots that will protect your body against four strains of HPV, commonly referred to as HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18. Recent studies have linked HPV, a sexually-transmitted disease, to cervical cancer. The current vaccine has been shown to prevent HPV infection and reduce the occurrence of cervical cancer in most women. In fact, studies have shown the vaccine to prevent almost 70 percent of cervical cancer cases and almost 90 percent of genital warts cases currently seen.
There are many rumors involving the HPV vaccine. The truth is that anyone can receive the HPV vaccine and be protected in some way. Women who are sexually active and have had abnormal pap smears or previous HPV infections can still receive the vaccine. It will protect against other strains of HPV and potential future cervical cancer.
Currently, the FDA has approved the vaccine for females between the ages of 9 and 26 years old regardless of sexual activity and prior pap smear history. Most insurance plans will cover the cost of the vaccine for these women. If you are over the age of 26, you can still receive the vaccine; it just might not be covered by your insurance. The HPV vaccine is a three-shot series given over a 6 month period. Schedule an appointment with your OB/Gyn to discuss the HPV vaccine.