HPV vaccine for genital warts and cervical cancer

Originally Published: May 13, 2005 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: June 7, 2013
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Dear Alice,

I recently began hearing rumors about an HPV vaccine in the works. Do you know anything about the HPV vaccines being tested and when they might be available? Also, will the vaccines cure HPV or just prevent it? Thanks in advance.

Yours,
J

Dear J,

Those rumors are true! In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first vaccine that protects against certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is commonly known as the virus that causes genital warts. Over 100 strains of HPV exist, and at least 30 strains can infect the genitals. Two strains, HPV-6 and HPV-11, cause approximately 90 percent of genital warts. Two other strains, HPV-16 and HPV-18, cause approximately 70 percent of cases of cervical cancer. The first vaccine, Gardasil, provides protection against these four strains. A second vaccine, Cervarix, was approved in 2009 and provides protection against HPV-16 and HPV-18.

Gardasil is approved by the FDA for females (ages 9 to 26) and males (ages 9 to 21). Cervarix is approved by the FDA only for females ages 10 to 25. Both vaccines are given as a series of three injections, and no serious side effects have been shown. These vaccines are most effective when administered before people become sexually active, but it will work as long as a person hasn't been exposed to the specific strains of HPV against which the vaccine protects. Clinical trials are currently underway to test the vaccine's effectiveness for people over age 26.

Research shows the vaccines are both very effective in preventing diseases caused by common strains of HPV. As is common with new vaccines, it's unclear at this point how long the protection will last. Columbia students on the Morningside campus who are interested can discuss the vaccine with their primary care provider by making an appointment through Open Communicator or by calling 212-854-7426. Students on the Medical Center campus can call 212-305-3400 to make an appointment at the Student Health Service. Non-students can contact their health care provider for more information.

These vaccines do NOT cure HPV or protect against other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It's important for women to continue to get regular pap smears because, even with the vaccine, it's still possible to get some strains of HPV. Pap tests are great at detecting pre-cancerous or cancerous changes in the cervix, and early treatment for cervical cancer or pre-cancer is very effective.

Now that you're in the know, read some of the related questions to help you decide whether the vaccine is for you. Best of luck,

Alice