Beyond Your 20s? You Can Still Fight HPV

A late-life risk for cancers caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) has changed the recommendations for who should get the HPV vaccine.

HPV is a common infection spread through sexual contact. Although many HPV infections can go away without treatment, others may lead to certain types of cancer, such as cervical, penile, anal and back of throat cancers. The HPV vaccine can prevent more than 90% of HPV-related cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A Second Peak in Women

HPV risk first peaks in adolescents who have reached sexual maturity and usually declines with time. That’s why the CDC recommends that children ages 11–12 receive two doses of the vaccine to protect against infection.

However, the risk can rise again in women who have reached menopause. If these women were previously infected with HPV, the virus can reactivate. Therefore, it is important for women to continue screening.

Prevention and Screening for Adults

  • HPV vaccine for adults. Until recently, vaccines were considered ineffective for adults older than age 26. However, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has expanded use of the vaccine to adults ages 27–45. Adults in this age group should talk to their healthcare providers about whether they should receive a catch-up HPV vaccination.
  • Routine Pap and HPV tests. A Pap test, HPV test, or a Pap and HPV test combination (co-test) is recommended for women to screen for abnormal cells in the cervix. Nine of every 10 cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV, which is more treatable if detected early. Women ages 30–65 should get a Pap test every three years or an HPV test or the co-test every five years.

Our centers can help prioritize your health in many ways. Click here to learn about our women’s health services.

Infections: The Cancer Connection

Infections can increase the risk of cancer by affecting cell growth, causing inflammation or suppressing the immune system. The following infections are often associated with cancer:

Epstein-Barr virus

  • Linked to: lymphoma, nose and throat cancers
  • Spread through: saliva, sexual contact

Hepatitis B and hepatitis C 

  • Linked to: liver cancer
  • Spread through: blood, sexual contact and shared needles

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

  • Linked to: weakened immune system that increases risk of Kaposi sarcoma and lymphomas
  • Spread through: blood, sexual contact and shared needles


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