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Your Good Health: HPV vaccine still worth getting even after infection

Should you get the HPV vaccine if you already have a history of the human papillomavirus?
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Dr. Keith Roach

Dear Dr. Roach: My step-daughter and her two sisters (32 years of age and up) have HPV (the kind that causes cancer). Two of the three sisters have undergone LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedures). If she is cleared of HPV after surgery, can she get the HPV shot? It wasn’t available to her when she was young, and then she got HPV.

D.R.

The best time to get the vaccine is before sexual activity starts, but it may be given any time (it is approved from age 9 to age 45). It is probably still worth getting, even for a person who has a history of HPV, because it covers several strains of potentially cancer-causing viruses. There is no strong evidence that the vaccines help clear existing HPV infections or related diseases, but it certainly won’t hurt existing HPV lesions.

Men should get the HPV vaccine as well, both to protect their female partners from cervical cancer, but also to protect themselves against HPV-related penile, head and neck cancer.

Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu

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