Skip to Content

NorthShore’s online source for timely health and wellness news, inspiring patient stories and tips to lead a healthy life.

Healthy You

Get Educated: Dr. Brockstein on HPV and Prevention

Tuesday, July 10, 2018 8:45 AM

Recent studies have shown that an increasing number of men are contracting the oral form of HPV, which has been found to occur found in men more often than women. According to the CDC, all adolescents, ideally at ages 11 and 12, should be getting the HPV vaccination, but only 43% of teens overall are up to date on their shots. Many are still uninformed about the risks of HPV and the importance of vaccination.

Dr. Bruce Brockstein, Medical Oncologist within the NorthShore Kellogg Cancer Center, recently answered patient questions about HPV, and addresses some of the more common concerns with HPV, vaccines and infections below:

What does the HPV vaccine prevent? 
The HPV vaccine is approved for women and girls for the prevention of cervical cancer, vulvar, vaginal and anal cancer caused by HPV virus strains covered in the vaccine, and for the prevention of genital warts and anal cancer in men. In addition, we think it also will lead to the prevention of genital warts in women and other cancers related to the HPV virus including cancers of the throat, anus, penis and vulva/vagina. 

What is the recommended age for vaccination? 
For girls, the approval is for ages 9-26. Ideally, that should be done during the earlier part of this age range, as it is most effective if given prior to any HPV exposure, and therefore, prior to sexual activity. For boys, the range is 9-26

Can you tell us about how the vaccine is administered? How often? 
The vaccine is given as an injection 2 times over a period of six to twelve months for those under 15. If the individual is 15 or older, 3 injections are given. It is given as a shot under the muscle like many other vaccines.

Are there side effects to this vaccine? 
There are minimal to no side effects; however, there may be a reaction to the vaccine at the site of the injection with redness in a rash. Also, a small percentage of people will get faint or dizzy and occasionally pass out. For this reason, it is recommended that those vaccinated remain in the doctor’s office for 15 minutes.

If a patient does not get all of the required shots, can they do so later? 
Yes, if the second vaccine is given outside of the 12 month window, it is still better to do this then to not have it done at all. If someone has not received the vaccine during the indicated ages, it may still be helpful even beyond that age range, especially if they have not yet become sexually active. It should be noted; however, that the cost of the vaccine may not be covered by insurance outside of the age range. 

What are some common causes for infection in adulthood? 
The HPV virus is sexually-transmitted. This can probably occur both by sexual intercourse and oral sex 

What are some conditions HPV causes? 
At the time of the HPV infection, there is usually not any symptoms, that is to say, it is a "silent" infection. Later, genital boards can develop. For women, changes in the cervix related to pre-cancer can occur in just a relatively short number of years, and later cervical cancer can develop. In both men and women, cancer of the throat can develop, though we think this takes a decade or even several decades to show. Additionally, cancers in other organs can develop in the anus, penis, vulva and vagina

How is HPV detected? 
There are no physical symptoms early on with infection. The "footprint" of HPV can be seen through the changes in the cells on the cervix as noted by a pap smear. In addition, laboratory tests can find evidence of prior HPV infection. In men, this is much harder to detect. Finding it in the throat at this point is only done using specific research-based studies

Are there ways to protect against HPV infections? 
Probably the best way to protect against an HPV infection is to be vaccinated prior to the onset of sexual activity. In addition, barrier contraception using a condom is helpful.

Is there a cure? 
Currently, there is no treatment for the actual HPV virus. Genital warts can be treated using topical or surgical techniques. The cancer that develops as a result can be treated with combinations of surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.