HPV immunization in menopause? Yes! I am a firm believer that prevention is better than treatment. So obviously that makes me a believer in vaccination to prevent disease.
Vaccinations seem to be a hot topic in the media these days. There’s the “victimization” of the M-M-R vaccine that prevents measles, mumps and rubella and has been wrongly associated with autism, and last week there was a lot of print in Canadian newspapers about the HPV vaccine.
I will focus on the latter since HPV immunization in menopause is something that menopausal women should know more about.
Various types of HPV can lead to different infections. Some infect the skin on the hands and feet while others target the anogenital area. Throat cancer can also be caused by HPV infection.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually-transmitted infection (STI) in Canada and elsewhere. There are many types of HPV and about 13 of those can cause cervical cancer. Even more astonishing is the fact that 80% of sexually-active people may be infected but don’t even know it. That’s because symptoms may not be felt, or may take weeks, months, or even years to develop.
The most common symptom that women experience is cervical warts. Some 70-90% of infections are cleared by the immune system but some, if untreated, can cause changes in the cervical cells and lead to cancer.
In Canada the vaccine Gardasil is indicated for girls and women 9 through 45 years of age for the prevention of infection caused by HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18, and the diseases associated with these types:
- cervical, vulvar, and vaginal cancer caused by HPV types 16 and 18
- genital warts caused by HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18
- and other precancerous lesions.
It’s easy to see why we should vaccinate young women, before they get sexually active and contract the virus, but why should women get HPV immunization in menopause as well?
According to the North American Menopause Society, “A study released early in 2013 of women 35 to 60 years old found that HPV in women at or after menopause may represent an infection acquired years ago. Think of it like chickenpox—that virus can lie dormant in the bodies of people who were infected as children, then come raging back as shingles later in life when the immune system weakens. It’s the same with HPV. The reactivation risk may increase around age 50. This is dangerous because of HPV’s link to head and neck, cervical, vulvar, vaginal, penile and anal cancer. It is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the US. Women who started having sex during and after the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s have a significantly higher risk of HPV infection compared to women who did so before 1965. This is because the risk of HPV is related to the number of sexual partners women have. Baby boomer women, and all women who have had multiple partners, should not stray too far from their Pap smear or HPV test at menopause until we know more about the increased risk of HPV flare up at menopause.”
Even if you have already been infected with HPV you should still get the vaccine. That’s because, according to Health Canada, “If you are infected with one type of HPV you can still benefit from the HPV vaccine. It can protect you against other strains of the virus. Unfortunately, even if you are vaccinated, you are still at risk for some types of HPV not covered by the vaccine. It is important that women who receive the vaccine still have regular Pap tests and practice safer sex.”
Minimizing your risk of infection includes getting vaccinated, regardless of your age, and learning about and practicing safe sex methods, which includes using a condom correctly and consistently. See your doctor regularly for a Pap test, even if you have been vaccinated.
Prevention is the best remedy…..