REDPIXEL.PL/ShutterstockThere’s a reason why the HPV vaccine is approved for boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 26 years old. Young adolescence is when they haven’t yet become sexually active—so they won’t yet have been exposed to the human papilloma virus, and it’s also when they’re likely to have the most robust immune response to the vaccine. Many people are resistant to vaccines because they believe these common myths. HPV is known to be related to certain cancers, cervical cancer in particular, and many people die from it because there are essentially no warning signs. (Read more about the latest guidelines from CDC.)
But while the infection is most common in the late teens and early 20s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), what about people over the age of 26? Does it make sense to ask for the vaccine? After all, the infection is on the rise in adults. During a recent two-year period, almost 23 percent of U.S. adults aged 18 to 59 had a type of genital human papilloma virus.
Stephanie Zeszutek, DO, FACOG, RPh, Course Director for Physical Diagnosis in the Department of Primary Care at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine–Middletown, says getting the vaccine from age 27 and older may still offers some protection, even though there is still a chance of exposure to one of the HPV subtypes. “Since the vaccine covers nine high-risk subtypes, you will likely still derive the benefit of protection against a few of the high-risk forms,” Dr. Zeszutek says. “This applies to men and women.”
Although the vaccine does not protect against all types of human papilloma virus and therefore will not prevent all cases of cervical cancer, Dr. Zeszutek adds, some people would likely do well to get the vax. “If you’ve never had an abnormal pap smear or a sexually transmitted infection and have had fewer than three sexual partners in your lifetime, then you may be a good candidate to receive the vaccine when you are older and derive the full benefits.” And in that case, you might want to spring for the jab even though you’ll have to pay out-of-pocket to the tune of $390 to $510 for three shots over a six-month period, not including any additional office visit fees.
Either way, you should be getting routine cervical cancer screenings from age 21 to 65, whether you received the vaccine or not. (Abnormal pap smear? Here’s what to do next.)
Not everyone believes it’s advantageous to get the HPV vaccine past age 26: According to board-certified dermatologist and pediatrician Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, the vaccine is not generally recommended once individuals are sexually active or are with a monogamous partner and are in their 30s or older. It is probably too late to be effective for cancer prevention, and the risk for human papilloma virus transmission into the skin cells is lower.
“However,” she adds, “if someone is 26 years-plus and not yet sexually active, or has been minimally sexually active, but would like to be in the future, it is completely appropriate to have the vaccine.” That could include late bloomers and women who are newly back on the dating scene after being married monogamous with the same person for many years. “Also, if someone has a history of an abnormal pap smear, they might consider getting the vaccine to prevent infection with other HPV strains to which they have not yet been exposed.”
Shainhouse also suggests that men having sex with men might consider having the vaccine, even if they are over 26, especially if they have become more sexually active in their later years, as opposed to when they were younger. “Anal warts can develop internally and may be difficult for the patient or partner to visualize or feel easily,” she explains. “HPV-induced changes to the anal skin and tissue can be similar to changes in cervical tissue, leading to a similar type of cancer. Because men do not usually have anal skin tested in a way that women get routine Pap smears, the HPV vaccine for men can help prevent some HPV-related cell changes and potentially prevent anal and penile skin cancers.”
Before you go, here are more facts—and myths—you must know about the human papilloma virus.