FDA Expands Use of HPV Vaccine: What It Means in the Fight against Cancer

The US Food and Drug Administration has updated its recommendations for the use of Gardasil 9, the vaccine that protects against human papillomavirus (HPV), to include people age 27 to 45. Previously, Gardasil 9 was only approved for use in those between age nine and 26. 

This expansion is a significant step toward reducing and preventing cervical cancer and head and neck cancers, in addition to precancerous conditions of the genital tract. Receiving the vaccine causes minimal inconvenience and very few side effects. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 14 million Americans become infected with HPV every year. As a result, about 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and about 4,000 women die from the disease. HPV is also associated with other forms of cancer affecting both men and women, including those of the head and neck. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center advocates for a proactive approach to preventing cancer whenever possible and has always supported the use of this vaccine when appropriate. People in the expanded age group should consult with their doctor to see whether the HPV vaccine is a good choice for them.

“There are very few times when something as straightforward as a vaccine can lower cancer risk by 90 percent. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could reduce the incidence of all cancers to this extent?” said Ginger Gardner, MD, a gynecologic oncologist and surgeon at MSK. “People with cancer often ask if we can provide beneficial treatment by enhancing the immune system. That’s exactly what a vaccine does. Even better, it activates the immune system to prevent the cancer from ever occurring in the first place.”

This recent FDA approval is a very important advance in preventing challenging HPV-associated cancers. All people in this age group should consult with their doctor about whether they should receive vaccination, if they have not previously.