By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited Mar 15, 2024
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Alice! Health Promotion. "At what age can I get the HPV vaccine?." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 15 Mar. 2024, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/what-age-can-i-get-hpv-vaccine. Accessed 24, May. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2024, March 15). At what age can I get the HPV vaccine?. Go Ask Alice!, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/what-age-can-i-get-hpv-vaccine.

Dear Alice,

I am 28 years old, and became sexually active two years ago. My husband is the only man I've ever had sex with, and I am his only sexual partner as well. Where does the gene or whatever it is that the HPV vaccine helps guard against come from? Because I'm too old to get the vaccine, are my chances of getting cervical cancer from this particular gene increased then? Thank you for your help.

Dear Reader, 

In a world often ruled by numbers, here’s a reminder not to let age keep you from seeking preventative care; the pursuit of your health can be timeless. While there are some limitations to receiving a human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine past the age of 26, there are still many options available for you to protect yourself against cervical cancer. This includes receiving a regular pap smear and using barrier contraceptive methods when necessary. 

HPV is a common sexually transmitted virus that can enter the body, usually through a cut or small tear in the skin. In most cases, the virus naturally clears on its own within one to two years. However, if infected with high-risk HPV types, such as HPV 16 or HPV 18, these infections may last for years, potentially leading to changes in cervical cell structure and the development of precancerous lesions. If these lesions aren’t found and removed, they may eventually develop into cervical cancer. Researchers hypothesize that there may also be a genetic component to developing cervical cancer as you’ve mentioned; however, most cases of cervical cancer appear to be caused by HPV. 

The three United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved HPV vaccines—Gardasil, Gardasil 9, and Cervarix—work by stimulating the immune system to produce antibodies. These antibodies then bind to the virus if contracted in the future and prevent it from infecting cells in the body. These vaccines protect against infection from HPV itself as well as prevent most cases of cancer caused by HPV. 

That said, certain factors that might increase the risk of contracting HPV and developing cervical cancer, may including: 

  • Having multiple sexual partners 
  • Having a weakened immune system 
  • Becoming sexually active before the age of 18 
  • Smoking 
  • Obesity 
  • Using oral contraceptives 
  • Giving birth to multiple children 
  • Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) when in the womb 

Based on these risk factors, the vaccine is most effective if it’s administered before becoming sexually active. This way there’s less of a chance the person receiving the vaccine has already been exposed to the virus. From what you’ve mentioned, your risk of contracting HPV may be low, since you and your partner have only had sex with each other. However, it’s important to note that transmission of HPV can still occur even if there’s non-sexual contact with an infected person or surface. Therefore, if possible, it may still be beneficial to take measures to protect yourself from contracting HPV

Some adults who haven’t previously received the vaccine can still be vaccinated up to the age of 45. If you’re interested in receiving the vaccine, it might be helpful to speak with a health care provider to see if you’re eligible based on your risk for new HPV infections. They may recommend that you receive three doses instead of the usual two doses, due to the drop in efficacy after someone becomes sexually active. Additionally, if you’re pregnant or trying to become pregnant, they may recommend that you delay HPV vaccination until after pregnancy. 

As for your question about age being related to cancer, studies show that there’s still a risk of developing cervical cancer as you age. Cervical cancer diagnoses most commonly occur between the ages of 35 and 44, with the average age of diagnosis being around 50. While these statistics may seem concerning, there are many options besides vaccination that you may consider utilizing to reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer. 

Pap smears or pap tests are common screening tools used to detect high-risk HPV infections or any abnormal cell changes that can be treated before they turn into cervical cancer. It’s recommended that anyone with a cervix aged 21 to 29 undergoes routine pap smears every three years, regardless of risk factors. Beyond the age of 30, routine pap smears can be extended to every five years, along with an optional HPV test. If you have certain risk factors for cervical cancer, it may be recommended that you receive more frequent testing. In addition to routine screening, using barrier methods such as condoms or dental dams might also reduce the risk for HPV infection and cervical cancer, since they can prevent contact with infected skin. For more information about cervical cancer prevention, feel free to check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines

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