Is the HPV vaccine useful for women over 18?
Two women. One looking lovingly into the eyes of the other and the second of the HPV vaccine

Is the HPV vaccine useful for women over 18?

Yes, and for certain demographics like bisexuals, lesbians, and gay men, there is a high risk of infection which can lead to certain types of cancer. This high risk is thought to do with the statistical significance of an increase in sexual partners as well as toy usage. In this article, we’ll go over what HPV is, how to get tested, the history behind the viruses, the vaccine, what health insurance covers, and some common myths. 

What is HPV?

HPV stands for the Human Papillomavirus, and the term encompasses over 200 different viruses that affect the skin. These viruses have no symptoms and are spread both through sexual and oral contact, and most people will get it at some point in their life. 

Certain high-risk cancers can be triggered by an untreated HPV infection like cervical cancer, anal cancer, vulval cancer, vaginal cancer, and certain head and neck cancers. Even if you haven’t kissed or been sexually active in several years, you can still test positive since the virus has no symptoms. 

How can I get tested for HPV?

You can do this during your yearly pap smear at an approved gynecologist (just search for one on Doctolib) coverage under public health insurance starts at 20 years old in Germany, but the test will cost you €50 – €80 if you’re not yet 30

At the age of 30, you can get tested once for HPV with a combi-test of both a pap-smear and HPV test. 

After 35, you’ll be able to get tested once every 3 years for the combi test and once per year for the pap-smear. 

If you do have HPV, then there are no known cures, but the viruses causing chlamydia and genital warts do offer some antiviral treatment. Also, if you get a positive test result for HPV, it might be a false positive since the test is known for frequently giving misleading results. You’ll just need to do a second test to confirm or your gynecologist will walk you through the process.

History of HPV

HPV has been around for a long time, but it wasn’t until about 40 years ago that a German professor of virology named Herald zur Hausen discovered the link between HPV and different types of cancers. Throughout his life, he has won the 2008 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his research on HPV and cancer as well as being awarded 36 honorary doctorate degrees from universities around the world. 

He retired in 2003 and sometimes will give talks or interviews on German media, especially during the pandemic when he urged people to get vaccinated after seeing the connection between viral infections and the risk of developing cancer

The pap smear started to be used in the 1950s after researchers found that they could connect cervical cancer with abnormal cellular morphology. Since the discovery of the pap smear, hundreds of thousands of women have been diagnosed early and received life-saving treatment for cervical cancer.

After the connection between HPV and cancer was made, Richard Schlegel from Georgetown University developed the basis for the vaccines we know today, which were available to the public in June 2006. The recommended dose is 2 vaccines with a third administered if the patient had the first two within 5 months of each other.

Why are HPV vaccines important for lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals?

Because HPV is highly contagious and has been detected on fingers, mouths, vaginal areas, sex toys, and skin, lesbians and bisexual women are the highest risk group for contracting it before regular testing is available. Gay men and bisexual men can also be an increased risk. This can lead to undetected cases of HPV developing into cancer at a higher rate within these groups. 

While the vaccine is generally given to children before the age of 15 due to the fact that most sexually active adults will contract several forms of HPV after engaging in intercourse, the fact that the vaccine treats multiple strands of HPV means that there are benefits for someone who is older than the recommended age of 26 who might not have been exposed to all types of this virus. 

How can I get the HPV vaccine after the age of 18?

There is an incredibly low amount of people asking for the vaccine after 18 because most doctors don’t think the small benefits are worth it for such a low risk. Sometimes, for this reason, public health insurance will cover the costs if asked in advance why it’s needed along with a recommendation from a doctor. 

Otherwise, one dosage of the HPV vaccine costs about €160 and doesn’t include the time a doctor will take to explain or administer the vaccine 

The importance of regular screening

Since cervical cancer is the growth of abnormal cells that can be detected through a yearly gynecologist visit, it’s important to see your doctor regularly. Cervical cancer is quite common with 1 in 162 women 85 years and younger being diagnosed at one point in their lives in Australia. In Germany, rates of infection are dropping with a 65% survival rate for the first five years after diagnosis and 61% for the first ten years after diagnosis. 

Common myths about HPV

HPV can cause infertility

While your ability to become pregnant will stay consistent throughout an infection, the treatments used to stop the abnormal growth of cells in the cervix can lead to something called cervical inefficiency which will make it more difficult to become pregnant or lead to potential difficulties during later stages of pregnancy.

HPV only affects women

HPV affects both men and women, and while it is most well-known for causing cervical cancer in women, it can also cause anal and penile cancer in gay and bisexual men (especially those who are already tested positive for HIV during their infection) as well as those engaging in anal intercourse with an infected partner.  

HPV is a zoonotic disease like covid

This is actually untrue. While many diseases have mutated and crossed over to humans, HPV appears to be around 500,000 years old and comes from human ancestors having sexual intercourse with Neanderthals or Denisovans. 

Skin tags are a symptom of HPV

While there might be a connection between skin tags and HPV, these are most likely caused by something else like wearing underwear or jeans that are too tight. Otherwise, the risk of developing cervical cancer from HPV is greater than skin tags. 

This is an article from our 2022 pride series! If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out the others located on our blog!