Real facts about HPV | Dr. Petter

Controversial and inaccurate information about the HPV (human pappilloma virus) vaccine has surfaced with respect to two presidential candidates. This article helps clarify these issues.

HPV is common. It affects approximately 50 percent of sexually active individuals during their lifetime. It is considered a sexually transmitted infection.

HPV is the major cause of cervical cancer. The cervix is located at the lower end of the uterus. Each year approximately 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States. However, the death rate is declining as a result of women receiving regular screening pap smears and the vaccine.

The risk of contracting HPV is linked to having multiple sexual partners, engaging in unprotected sex, and/or a weakened immune system.

Initially, HPV infections do not produce symptoms. For most women, the virus completely resolves on its own. However for others, the virus can progress, causing significant cellular changes (dysplasia). Cancerous cells can cause bloody or watery vaginal discharge, pelvic pain, and/or bleeding during or after intercourse.

Several steps can be taken to prevent contracting this virus. Ideally, maintain a monogamous relationship. Always use condoms. See your doctor yearly for a pap beginning at age 21, or sooner if sexually active. The HPV DNA test can be done at the time of a routine pap.

The vaccine against HPV is recommended, not required. There are two different preparations, Gardasil and Cervarix. Gardasil was approved by the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) in 2006. It is available for girls ages 9 to 26. It protects against four HPV strains (6, 11, 16, 18).

Cervarix received FDA approval in 2009. It is indicated for girls ages 10 to 25. This vaccine protests against two strains of HPV (16, 18), which cause 75 percent of cervical cancers

Both vaccines can cause a local reaction at the site of the injection (i.e., soreness, itching, redness, swelling and/or bruising). The major potential side effect of Gardasil is a headache. The most common side effects of the Cervarix can be fatigue, headache, joint or muscle aches, stomach or intestinal symptoms. To date, I am not aware of any scientific proof that either vaccine causes mental disability.

Gardasil or Cervarix vaccines are given in three shots over a period of 6 months. Each shot cost around $130. Vaccines are available and administered at most primary care doctor offices, clinics and selected pharmacies.

Dr. Linda Petter of Auburn is a weekly feature on KOMO TV/News Radio in Seattle (1000 AM & 97.7 FM) every Sunday live 7:45 a.m., and a columnist for the Auburn Reporter. She trained at the Mayo Clinic and the University of Illinois, Carle Hospital. Dr. Petter is chief of the Department of Family Practice at St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way. She is a consumer healthcare advocate, and her books, "Healthcare On a Budget" and "Common Medical Sense" are available on Please visit her website,, or call her office at 253-568-0841.

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