Should I get the HPV vaccine?
The HPV vaccine is currently recommended for girls and women age 9 to 26, though the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) is considering extending the range up to age 44. If you're older than 26, you can still get the shots, but you'll have to pay out of pocket for them.
The HPV vaccine has proven extremely effective at reducing HPV infection and, consequently, abnormal Pap results. A new study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that girls and women who received the vaccine were more than 40 percent less likely to have abnormal Pap results than those who were not vaccinated.
The HPV vaccine protects against four of the most serious strains of HPV -- two that cause cervical cancer and two that cause genital warts. "But even if you've had abnormal Paps or tested positive for HPV, it's still a good idea to get vaccinated, because there's no way of knowing which strains you actually have," says Dr. Monk.
Getting the HPV vaccine doesn't completely eliminate your risk of getting cervical cancer, however. The vaccine protects against two strains that cause about 70 percent of cervical cancers, so even if you're vaccinated, you can still contract other types -- and you still need regular Pap screenings.
Sources: Bradley J. Monk, MD, an associate professor in the division of gynecologic oncology at the University of California Irvine School of Medicine; The American Academy of Family Physicians section on Abnormal Pap Smears; National Women's Health Information Center section on Pap Tests, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists pamphlet on Abnormal Pap Test Results
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