You may have heard about the “HPV vaccine” or the “cervical cancer vaccine”. Both names are a little overblown only because there is no vaccine that can prevent against all strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) nor is there any vaccine that can prevent all cases of cervical cancer. But we are certainly getting closer!
Gardasil is a vaccine available in the United States (and approved by the US Food and Drug Administration). It has been shown to offer girls and women significant protection against four strains of HPV. Two of these strains cause the majority of cervical cases in the US and the other two HPV strains are linked to genital warts.
Of course, vaccines are rarely without controversy – and in this case, that is particularly true given the relationship between HPV and sexual behavior (since genital contact can put a person at risk of HPV).
A few key facts you may want to know:
- The majority of sexually active women and men have been exposed to HPV (or will be)
- Most women and men do not have serious health problems as a result of HPV (e.g., cancer is rare)
- Gardasil has been shown to be highly protective for girls and young women, and more research is being done to understand its use among men
- Right now, we still have no HPV testing available to men (which means that if a guy says he has been tested for “everything”, it is not exactly true)
- HPV can be transmitted even when condoms are used. That’s because HPV is transmitted via skin contact and condoms do not and cannot cover all of one’s genital skin.
- Women who have had their Gardasil shots should still continue to get Pap tests at their annual gyn exam as (a) Gardasil does not protect against all forms of HPV and (b) no vaccine is guaranteed perfect, and the Pap test can help to detect early cervical changes
You can learn more about HPV and Gardasil from the CDC web site and also from the Gardasil web site. And if you have questions about HPV, Gardasil or any other sexuality topic, please ask us by completing this submission form. We love hearing from you (truly, I promise)!
UPDATE: Last week we posted some information about the human papillomavirus (HPV) and Gardasil, a vaccine that can prevent four strains of HPV that are related to many (but not all) cases of cervical cancer and genital warts. We mentioned that Gardasil, like other vaccines, has not been received without controversy.
The New York Times recently reported on some of the issues around the marketing of Gardasil and how the media (and its manufacturers’ marketing efforts) have contributed to occasional misinformation – or overhyped claims – about the vaccine. You can read the NYT article on their web site (free registration required).