As HPV-positive cancer rates rise, age group expands for vaccine

Published: Oct. 11, 2018 at 9:55 PM CDT
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More people are now able to get a vaccine to protect against a virus that causes cancer in more than 3,300 women and men each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is being offered to a wider age group. The FDA has now approved the vaccine for adults 27-45.

HPV has been linked to several cancers.

"A virus has been linked to several different conditions, one of which is cervical cancer, and also linked to several other types of cancers," says Kim Shefchik, physicians assistant at Bellin Health Generations.

Shefchik says physicians have seen increasing numbers when it comes to cervical cancer, vaginal vulva cancer, anal cancer and head and neck cancer. HPV can also cause genital warts.

The virus is spread primarily through sexual contact. It can also be spread through genital-to-skin contact.

The CDC says 80 million Americans have been infected with HPV.

"That means it's the most commonly sexually transmitted disease in the U.S.," Dr. Robert DeFatta, Facial Plastic Surgeon at DeFatta ENT, says.

A vaccine can protect against these cancers caused by HPV.

"The one we are using called Gardisil 9, and it covers nine different strains of the virus and basically the strains most likely to cause severe concerns," Shefchik says. "Obviously cancer being most severe, so the cervical, vaginal, vulva cancer, anal cancer in men and women and the genital warts."

Vaccines work best before someone is exposed, so the HPV vaccine previously was approved only for minors and young adults, ages 9-26.

New data show an 88 percent effective rate in women older than 26, so the FDA decided to expand the age limit.

Doctors say HPV doesn't only impact women. Men are also being diagnosed with cancers related to the virus.

"There's been a 300 percent rise in Oropharyngeal cancer at least in men over the last 40 years, and 70-90 percent are HPV positive," says Dr. DeFatta.

DeFatta says head and neck cancers linked to HPV will overtake cervical HPV positive cancers by 2020.

Right now, HPV is so prevalent, it will take time for numbers to change.

"If every American that is eligible to receive the vaccine got it next year, it will take 20-30 years to reverse the rising rate of Oropharyngeal cancers among men that will be affected during that age group," DeFatta says.

The CDC still needs to weigh in on the expanded vaccine group.

"We don't have yet any findings from CDC for example, which drives insurance coverage," Shefchik says.

Click the link attached to this article for more information on HPV.