I'm an 18 year-old, and I've heard about a cervical cancer vaccine. Is it safe? Should I get it?
The "cervical cancer vaccine" is called Gardasil. Genital warts, cervical cancers, and pre-cancers are caused by a sexually transmitted virus called human papilloma virus (also known as HPV). In women who received the vaccine, after 2 years, none had developed warts or abnormal pap smears/cervical pre-cancers. It is currently recommended for women between 9 and 26 years of age.
There are many different strains of HPV (i.e., HPV-6, HPV-11, HPV-16, etc.). One important point about the vaccine is that it does not eliminate HPV strains that you have already been infected with; it only prevents you from becoming infected with most new strains. It is still important to get pap smears after receiving the vaccine!
I generally do recommend this vaccine for young women as it can dramatically reduce the likelihood of warts and abnormal pap smears-both of these can cause a lot of stress, be expensive to treat, and can rarely lead to cancer. Whether to get it depends upon your life situation-if you are monogamous and will likely not be sexually active with another partner, it is unlikely you will be exposed to new HPV strains and therefore there is little reason to get the vaccine. However, if you have never been sexually active, or may be sexually active with other partners during your lifetime, it probably makes sense to get the vaccine.
We do provide this vaccine (a 3-shot series over 6 months) at our office. You can find out more by calling us, or on the web at www.gardasil.com.