Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a sexually transmitted disease of which there are more than 100 types. Many strains of HPV clear on their own, but certain types of HPV can cause serious health problems.
Types 6 and 11 cause genital warts and types 16 and 18 cause cervical cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that HPV is a common cause of cervical cancer in women, of which there are around 12,000 new cases each year.
Two HPV vaccinations are on the market: Cervarix and Gardasil. Cervarix vaccinates individuals against HPV types 16 and 18, while Gardasil protects against HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18.
Each of these vaccines is given over three doses. Gardasil is the only HPV vaccination approved for males.
The CDC’s recommendation for the HPV vaccinations is that they be given to 11-12 year old girls (or 11-12 year old boys using Gardasil). The reasoning for the vaccination at this age is that it is before individuals become sexually active and can come into contact with the virus.
In addition, when given at age 11-12, more antibodies are produced than at any other age, according to the CDC. The vaccination can be given as young as 9 years old. The vaccinations have been tested and found safe, and thus licensed, for women and men up to age 26.
But what if you are in your 30s and 40s and you have not had the HPV vaccination? Can you get it?
Currently, neither Gardasil nor Cervarix is licensed for women over age 26. But there has been a push to get the vaccination approved for older women. U.S. News Health reported that in 2010, clinical data from over 3,800 women between the ages of 24 to 45 showed that the vaccination was 90 percent effective. This study was done over four years and released by Merck, the manufacturer of Gardasil.
However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration rejected extending the age of use of Gardasil to 45 in April 2011. Reuters reported that the FDA concluded that the vaccination did not protect women older than 26 years old from cervical cancer caused by HPV.