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What Parents and Teens Should Know About HPV

Meredith Tenney, a Certified Nurse Midwife (CNMW) of the gynecology practice of Nonnie-Estella, MD, in Lowell answers frequently asked questions on human papillomavirus (HPV). They specialize in the gynecology needs of women of all ages, including urogynecology surgery and infertility. They can be reached by calling: 978-459-8300. 

Q: What exactly is HPV?
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a large group of viruses. For most individuals, these viruses will clearup
on their own. Some types of HPV can cause abnormal Pap tests and genital warts. HPV can also lead to cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, or penis.

Q: How does someone get HPV?
HPV is spread through sexual contact. In fact, it's the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the U.S. HPV will affect an estimated 75-80% of males and females in their lifetime.

Q: Isn't there a vaccine for HPV?
Yes. In 2006, the FDA licensed the first vaccine - Gardasil® - to prevent cervical cancer and other diseases in females caused by four types of HPV. The vaccine protects against four HPV types which are responsible for 70% of cervical cancers and 90% of genital warts. This year, a second vaccine - Cervarix® - has been introduced which provides protection for two HPV types.

Q: Who should get this vaccine?
It's recommended for girls and women ages 11-35 years, but can be given to girls as young as age 9. It's given as a series of three injections over a six-month period.

Q: Why is the HPV vaccine recommended for such young girls?
Like any vaccine, it is most effective given prior to exposure to what causes the illness - the HPV types
covered by the vaccine.

Q: Can boys be vaccinated for HPV?
In October of 2009, the FDA approved the use of Gardasil for males ages 9 - 26 for the prevention of genital warts, which are caused by HPV. Use of the vaccine to prevent oral, neck, and other types of cancer in males or to curb transmission of the virus to women has been suggested but is not yet approved.

Q: Your advice to parents of teens and tweens?
Talk to your kids about STDs. And talk to your doctor about the HPV vaccine.

This Q/A has been reviewed and approved by Dr. Nonnie Estella and was garnered from public sources including the FDA, WebMD, the CDC and Gardasil websites.

Did you know?

  • One out of every three teen girls with sexual experience will become pregnant?
  • One out of four teens who are sexually active will develop a sexually transmitted disease? 
  • More than half of U.S. teens have engaged in oral sex - and don't think of it as sex?
  • 30% of girls and 31% of boys aged 15 to 17 have had sexual intercourse, and those percentages double by the time they're 19?
  • More than 1 in 10 teenagers experience physical violence in a dating relationship? 
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