PELHAM, N.Y. Cervical cancer is a stealthy killer that strikes approximately 12,000 U.S. women per year and kills around 4,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genital human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a common virus passed from one person to another through skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity and can cause cervical cancer.
Two FDA-approved vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix were both released five years ago and designed to protect against HPV. Backers of the vaccine include the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The vaccine requires three shots over a six-month period and costs upwards of $400, an expense that is not always covered by insurers or government agencies.
Dr. Susan Kahn, who works at Pelham Pediatrics on Fifth Avenue, said her office offers a vaccine to patients at their annual checkup starting at around age 13.
"If you wait until after you've been exposed, you can't prevent cervical cancer," Kahn said.
Kahn said she also offers the Gardasil vaccine to boys because it can help prevent anal, throat and penile cancer. She added that Gardasil can also help prevent genital warts.
Although they might never know it, most sexually active people will contract HPV at some time in their lives. In fact, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the U.S.: at least 50 percent of sexually active people will have genital HPV at some point in their lives. The infection is most common in people in their late teens and early 20s.
There are 40 known types of HPV that can infect the genital areas of men and women. Most cause no symptoms and are harmless, but some can cause cervical and other reproductive cancers in women and other less common cancers. Other types of HPV can cause genital warts, a non-life-threatening disease.
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