One great tool for prevention is the vaccine, which has the possibility to dramatically reduce (if not eliminate) infection with the major pathogenic types of HPV.
A question that I am often asked is, “Should I get the HPV vaccine if I’ve already had HPV?” The concern being, if you’ve already been infected (and thus have antibodies) how can the vaccine help? Having had HPV would be defined as a positive HPV DNA test, cervical dysplasia (pre-cancer or cancer), or genital warts.
To answer that question I turned to my good friend, and world-renowned HPV vaccine researcher, Dr. Kevin Ault. His answer:
“If someone is known to have an abnormal pap or genital warts, it is unlikely they have been exposed to every HPV type in the quadrivalent HPV vaccine. So the recommendation is to give the vaccine.”
As a reminder, the vaccine is recommended for adolescents (both boys and girls). Giving the vaccine earlier in adolescence is recommended as the vaccine will be most protective before exposure to genital HPV strains (so age 11 or 12), but if it was missed women can be vaccinated up to the age of 26 and men up to the age of 21.
In addition, there is some (albeit limited, but definitely exciting) evidence to suggest that the HPV vaccine prevents recurrence of HPV related disease in women previously treated.
And consider these words of wisdom from Dr. Ault, “I think it is important not to over think the recommendations. Get vaccinated. Most people have sex, most people who have sex are exposed to HPV.”
If you are in the right age group, get vaccinated. End of story.