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Protecting yourself against cancer-causing HPV

Protecting yourself against cancer-causing HPV

Spread through skin-to-skin contact, nearly all of us will at some point in our lives be infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV). An estimated 14 million people become infected each year. Although our immune system is in incredibly effective at getting rid of this virus, with 90% of HPV infections clearing up in a year or two, some may progress and lead to cancer.

Each year, in the U.S., approximately 42,700 new cases of HPV-associated cancers are reported—equivalent to one case diagnosed every 20 minutes. The best way to prevent HPV is to get your child vaccinated early, way before they become sexually active and when their response to the vaccine is strongest.

During their free BCH lecture on how to prevent getting cancer-related HPV, certified nurse-midwives Jessica Dacic, CMN, DNP, and Paige Swales, CNM, both of Foothills Community Midwives, provided information to help audiences have a better understanding of HPV. Their presentation covered the prevalence, transmission, prevention and treatment of HPV. Additionally, they shared information on the HPV vaccine, addressing who should get it, when, where, why and the efficacy of the vaccine.


Watch: “How To Prevent Your Child From Getting Cancer-Causing HPV Later in Life"


HPV Is Common

Worldwide, HPV is considered the most commonly sexually transmitted infection. Paige explained, “Generally speaking, people won’t have any symptoms or know that they have HPV.” She added, “There are 200 known strands of HPV and approximately 30 can affect the genitals. Some do cause warts. At least 14 are 'high risk' and can cause cancer, leading to cervical, penile, anal, vulval and oropharyngeal — the middle part of the throat — cancers.”

Skin-to-Skin Transmission

“HPV,” said Jessica, “is highly contagious, easily contracted and transmitted by skin-to-skin contact; it can be transmitted orally or by touch and is not transmitted only by penetration as many believe.”

Paige noted, “For women, the majority of the HPV related cancers are of the cervix, the fourth most common cancer in females.” She added, “While oropharyngeal cancer can result from tobacco and alcohol use, the majority of these cancers today are related to HPV.”

Peak Prevalence

Jessica noted, “peak prevalence occurs between ages 15 and 25, usually within 10 years of sexual debut and 80% of us will have HPV by age 50.”

How to Detect and Prevent the Progression of HPV

Paige indicated that screenings are the best way to catch this virus at an early stage and prevent it from progressing. Screenings and steps include:

  • Routine Pap and/or HPV Screenings
    • Pap screenings are recommended to start at age 21.
  • Appropriate follow-up for abnormal HPV findings including:
    • Repeating the pap/HPV screening.
    • Colposcopy—to examine the cervix, vagina and vulva.
    • Cryotherapy—to freeze and remove abnormal tissue.
    • LEEP—loop electrosurgical excision procedure—to remove abnormal tissue of the cervix and test for cancer if necessary.
    • More extensive excisional surgery.
  • Treatment for Genital Warts includes:
    • Freezing
    • Acid application
    • Laser treatment
    • Topical medications

Prevention with the HPV Vaccine

The most current vaccine is Gardasil 9; it guards against both high- and low-risk HPV. Jessica emphasized, “We recommend that those between 9 and 45 years old receive this vaccine. The ideal age is 11 to 12 years old—before sex has occurred. Additionally, even if you have tested positive for HPV, you should get the vaccine because you may not have been exposed to one of the nine strands that the vaccine covers.”

Paige added, “There is no indication that the vaccine effectiveness decreases over time. Once you have received your Gardasil 9 series, you should not ever need to repeat this vaccine or have it boosted.”

The Gardasil 9 vaccine is:

  • nearly 100% effective at reducing the nine HPV strands that it covers,
  • 86% effective in reducing cancer and
  • 71% effective in reducing the incidence of genital warts.

You can receive a vaccine at BCH, pediatric offices, public health offices, county health departments, family medicine offices, primary care offices and at women’s health providers.

Schedule an Appointment

To schedule an appointment with Jessica Dacic, CMN, DNP, or Paige Swales, CNM, DNP, MSN, at Foothills Community Midwives, call 303-415-4045.

Resources for More Information

The World Health Organization

The Center for Disease Control

Gardasil 9

The American Academy of Pediatrics

Click here to view/download a PDF of slides shown during the lecture.

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