What you need to know about getting the HPV vaccine as an adult.
Narrator: HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection that can cause genital warts and several types of cancers, including cervical, anal, vaginal, vulvar, and head and neck.
The HPV vaccine can help protect you from these diseases, but knowing when you should get it as an adult can be confusing and, for some, it can be an uncomfortable topic to discuss with a healthcare provider. So, here are some ideas for how to talk about this important topic.
Dr: That’s about it for today, Lara. Don’t forget to schedule your next physical. Before you go, do you have any questions?
Lara: You know I got divorced last year, and I’m dating again. A friend of mine said I need to get the HPV vaccine, but I don’t know what HPV even is.
Dr: HPV is the most common type of sexually transmitted infection and by age 50, at least four out of five women will have been infected with the virus.
Lara: I’ve never been diagnosed with HPV and my ex-husband was my only sexual partner.
Dr: Even if you’ve never had HPV, you could still get it now that you’re sexually active with new partners. Most HPV infections go away on their own, but some can cause cancer, so it’s important to be protected.
Lara: So is it too late to get vaccinated?
Dr: No, it’s not too late. It’s ideal for boys and girls to get vaccinated against HPV at age 11 or 12 — before they’re sexually active — so they can be protected from certain cancers and genital warts, but the vaccine is approved for adults up to age 45.
And since most women have not been infected by all nine types of HPV that the vaccine gives protection for, it might still make sense for you to get it. Let’s look at your past Pap and HPV tests, and go over the specifics of the vaccine.
Narrator: This is how we’d all like the conversations to go.
But how should you handle it if you want to get vaccinated and your healthcare provider pushes back?
Lara: You know I got divorced last year, and I’m dating again. So I’d like to get the HPV vaccine.
Dr: I don’t think you really need it. The vaccine prevents new HPV infections, but it doesn’t treat existing HPV. That’s why it’s best for boys and girls to get vaccinated at 11 or 12 before they’ve ever been exposed to the virus. The vaccine is only recommended for people up to age 26 if they didn’t receive it when they were younger. Since you’re in your 30s, you really don’t need to worry about it.
Lara: I’ve heard that, but it is approved all the way up to age 45. Since I haven’t ever tested positive for HPV before, and I know HPV can cause cancer, I think I should get it. I don’t want to take any chances.
Dr: Well, most adults who’ve been sexually active have already been exposed to HPV, but not necessarily all of the HPV types targeted by the vaccine. And at any age, having a new sex partner is a risk factor for getting a new HPV infection. So if you really want the vaccine, it is your right to get it. I’ll send the nurse in to go over the details.
Narrator: Getting the HPV vaccine after age 26 should be a shared decision-making process with your healthcare provider.
Just be sure to check with your insurance to see if the vaccine will be covered or ask about the cost if you don’t have health coverage.
Remember, although it may be uncomfortable, you have the right to advocate for yourself to get the healthcare you need.
This resource was created with support from Merck.