If you didn’t get the HPV vaccine when you were in school, it may not be too late to get vaccinated and take advantage of the protection it offers.
What is HPV?
HPV is a virus that is easily transmitted during all types of sexual activities (genital, oral, or anal). It is estimated that up to 75% of sexually active people will develop an HPV infection at some point in their lifetime.
Most HPV infections cause few or no symptoms at all. Some infections may cause genital warts (condyloma) that are difficult to detect because they appear flat, are very small or are located inside body cavities. For all these reasons, people who transmit the virus to their partners are usually unaware that they are carrying it.
Which cancers are related to HPV?
Most HPV infections heal on their own without treatment. However, in some people, the infection can persist and develop into cancer.
Cancers related to HPV include:
- cervical cancer
- anal cancer
- vulvar cancer
- vaginal cancer
- penile cancer
- throat and mouth cancer
HPV is also the cause of 90% of genital wart (condyloma) cases in men and women.
Types of vaccine against HPV
There are over a hundred strains of HPV, but only a small number of strains cause cancer or genital warts.
In Canada, three HPV vaccines are available, each including different numbers of HPV strains. One protects against only two strains (HPV2), the other protects against four strains (HPV4) and the last one protects against 9 strains (HPV9).
- HPV2 is indicated for the prevention of cervical cancer.
- HPV4 and HPV9 are indicated for the prevention of genital warts and the prevention of cervical, vulvar, vaginal, and anal cancer.
Is it too late to get vaccinated against HPV?
Ideally, the HPV vaccine should be given before the first sexual contact, but it is not too late to take advantage of the vaccine even if it is administered later in life. The vaccine protects against several HPV strains, and may still offer protection against strains that you have not been exposed to.
- The HPV2 vaccine is indicated for girls and women aged 9 to 45.
- The HPV4 and HPV9 vaccines are indicated for girls and women aged 9 to 45 and for men aged 9 to 26.
Vaccination schedule, procedure and side effects
Depending on the person’s age at the time of the first dose that is given, two or three doses of the HPV vaccine will be needed to provide optimal protection. All injections should be administered within 6 months.
The vaccine is generally administered in the muscle on the upper arm. Some people may experience pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site. A cold compress or numbing cream applied to the injection site or a painkiller such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used to help ease any discomfort.
Some people may experience side effects such as headaches or fever after receiving the vaccine. These symptoms usually disappear within a day or two.
Where to get vaccinated against HPV?
The HPV vaccine is part of the routine vaccination schedule of school-aged children in some provinces and may also be offered to certain older individuals who are at a higher risk of contracting HPV. While the vaccine is not provided free of charge in every province, your private insurance plan(s) may partially or fully reimburse the cost of the vaccine.
Ask your pharmacist about vaccination services. Similarly, you can also seek HPV vaccinations at vaccination clinics, community healthcare centres or vaccination centers.