Home > Expert Insights, Preventable Diseases > Cancer Prevention as a Benefit of Hepatitis B Vaccine

Cancer Prevention as a Benefit of Hepatitis B Vaccine

April 26, 2010

By Dr. Ari Brown, Practicing Pediatrician and Author of Baby411, Toddler411 and the soon to be release Expecting 411

My brother passed away recently. He was only 57 years old.

Like so many people whose lives end prematurely, he died from cancer—specifically, liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma)—which is often caused by a previous Hepatitis B infection. The cancer shows up several years later. My brother had a Hepatitis B infection about 35 years ago. Because he had other chronic health problems, no one will ever know if this infection is what led to his cancer and subsequent death, but I will always wonder and it will haunt me the rest of my life.

As a pediatrician, I talk about Hepatitis B disease and vaccine with the parents of every newborn patient. One of the really cool advances in modern medicine is the development of cancer-preventing vaccines. Hepatitis B vaccine has the honor of being the first cancer vaccine ever created. It was developed in the 1980’s and it became part of the routine childhood immunization schedule in 1991. Babies usually get their first of three doses before they even leave the hospital.

Over the years, I’ve encountered parents who have reservations about giving their child this vaccine. I hear, “My baby isn’t at risk,” or “It’s spread by having sex, so why give it to my baby now?” But like every other vaccine, it is all about prevention. It doesn’t matter when you THINK your child might encounter a potentially deadly infection. The truth is, you never know and cannot control when that might happen. About 30% of people who get Hepatitis B infections are not considered “high-risk” for getting infected.

After losing a loved one to liver cancer, I can’t imagine why a parent would opt to leave their child at risk.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I think my brother would have agreed.

Dr. Ari Brown holds a bachelor’s degree in child development from the University of Texas at Austin and a medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine.  She completed her pediatric residency and a fellowship in developmental/behavioral pediatrics at Harvard Medical School/Children’s Hospital Boston.

Dr. Brown resides in Austin, Texas, where she has been in private practice since 1995.  She is the co-author of Baby 411: Clear Answers and Smart Advice for your Baby’s First Year, Toddler 411: Clear Answers for your Toddler and her latest book Expecting 411: Clear Answers and Smart Advice for your Pregnancy (June 2010 publish date).  Dr. Brown serves as a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics and as a medical advisor and child health expert to Parents magazine and WebMD.

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