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Theresa Werner, MD, on the Importance of the HPV Vaccine and Cervical Cancer Screening

Read Time: 3 minutes

Video Transcription

A lot of people don’t know that cervical cancer is one of the gynecologic cancers that actually can be prevented. We have a vaccine that helps prevent against cervix cancer. There’s a virus know as human papillomavirus, or HPV, that people may have heard of. It’s actually very common in women and in men. This, if you have a persistent infection with HPV, can eventually lead to cervix cancer. Infections of HPV can also lead to other cancers, including anal cancer and cancers of the head and neck area. The HPV vaccine is available in three different formulations around the world, because cervix cancer is a worldwide cancer as well.

Here in the United States, we have one vaccine available. It’s called a nine-valent vaccine. And this is actually approved starting at age 11 to 12. So most people’s pediatricians will recommend that boys and girls consider getting the HPV vaccine starting at age 11 and 12. And if you’re under the age of 15 when you start the vaccination series, it only requires two vaccinations. If you’re older than age 15, it does require three doses of the vaccine to incur immunity. And this vaccine is actually approved all the way up to age 45, especially for some women who have not been infected with HPV or have other high-risk features. So it’s really important for people to talk to their doctors, including their pediatricians, about when is the best time to start the vaccine. And again, it’s available for both girls and boys.

Luckily, cervix cancer is one of the gynecologic cancers that actually we can screen for and we have effective screening. So when we talk about screening for cancer, we want to try to detect that cancer early when we can treat it and can potentially cure it, so it’s important to consider screening for cervical cancer. We recommend screenings start around age 21 in women for cervix cancer. And this includes a visit to their doctor for a pelvic exam and what’s known as a Pap test. So a Pap test is a sample of the cells of the cervix to detect if there’s any pre-cancer or cancerous conditions. And if we detect some pre-cancerous cells we can actually try to treat that early before it turns into cervix cancer. At age 30, we talk about screening with not only the Pap test, but also too something we call co-testing. So not only do we do the sample to look for pre-cancerous or cancerous cells, we also actually do HPV testing, so we’re testing to see if there’s any HPV infection. And if those tests are negative, women can go every three to five years without having had those tests. So it’s very patient dependent on age and risk factors, but it is important screening in young women to try to prevent cervix cancer. So please make sure that you talk to your physician about what you need to do as far as screening for cervix cancer.

At Huntsman Cancer Institute, we give the most comprehensive care for cancer patients, especially the gynecologic cancer patients. We have a multidisciplinary team, so not only does it include a medical oncologist like myself, but also a gynecologist oncologist, who is surgery trained. As well as sometimes in gynecologic cancer, specifically uterine and cervix cancer, we utilize radiation, and so we have radiation oncologists as part of our team. We have the most caring group of nurses, and nurse practitioners, and physician’s assistants, as well as genetic counselors and social workers here at Huntsman. Our patients get the whole team supporting them through every aspect of their patient care, which is really important when you’re battling cancer.

Cancer touches all of us.