On World Cancer Day Remember Vaccines Help Prevent Certain Cancers
Feb 04, 2016

Yes, it’s World Cancer Day, but did you know that vaccines are currently helping to prevent and treat various types of cancer?

See, some cancers are caused by viruses and right now there are two commonly recommended vaccines (HepB and HPV) that target the very viruses that cause certain cancers.  We call these preventive cancer vaccines and they are a first-line defense against many cancers.  

Hepatitis B (HepB) Vaccine:

HepB112315The hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a leading cause of liver cancer.   People who have chronic (long-term) HBV infections are at higher risk for liver cancer.  Unfortunately, that’s about 1 in 20 people (or about 350 million individuals). In fact, the virus is believed to be responsible for 600,000 deaths worldwide each year.  That means every 50 seconds someone dies from this vaccine-preventable disease.  

The likelihood that a hepatitis B infection will become chronic depends upon the age at which a person becomes infected.  Statistics show that 80–90% of infants who are infected during the first year of life, go on to develop chronic infections which is why infants are recommended to receive the Hepatitis B vaccine at birth.

Experts agree that the 3-shot HepB vaccine can provide lifelong protection against HBV and helping to prevent the most common cause of liver cancer.  The vaccine is not only proven safe, but is believed to be 95% effective at preventing HBV infection.  Furthermore, the vaccination series can be started at any age and does not require any boosters.  In fact, the vaccine is so effective at preventing HBV and liver cancer that the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared it the world’s first “anti-cancer  vaccine”.

To learn more about why it is so important for infants to get a birth dose of HepB vaccine, check out another Shot of Prevention blog, “Why Infants Should Receive the Hepatitis B Vaccine at Birth” here.  

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine:

HPV112315Human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States and is often referred to as the common cold of the genitals.  About 1 in 4 Americans are currently infected (that’s about 80 million Americans), roughly 14 million people become newly infected each year, and about half of these new infections will be among people ages 15-24.

HPV infections are not only highly prevalent, but they can also result in cancerous cells that can lead to cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus or oropharynx (which includes the head, neck, throat, mouth, tongue and tonsils).

Since the majority of these cancers have no formal screening measures, and typically occur without any symptoms, they often go undetected until they are well advanced.  Additionally, since it’s possible to develop symptoms years after first being infected, it’s especially difficult to determine when a person first became infected.  Since most people don’t realize they’re infected, they continue to unknowingly spread the infection to others.

The risk of cancer occurs in the 10% of HPV infections that do not clear on their own.  These infections eventually develop into cancerous cells years, or even decades, after initial exposure.

The following data reveals just how many HPV-related cancer cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each  year:

Cervical cancer: Almost all cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV.  More than 11,000 women in the U.S.  get cervical cancer each year, about 500,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed worldwide each year, and close to 250,000 women will die each year from cervical cancer alone.  While cervical cancer screenings are vitally important, they don’t prevent infection but rather can help identify precancerous lesions that most often require painful and invasive treatments.

Anal cancer: About 91% of anal cancers are caused by HPV and there are approximately 4,300 anal cancers diagnosed each year.

Oropharyngeal cancers(cancers of the head, neck, throat, mouth, tongue, and tonsils) About 72% are caused by HPV and an estimated 8,400 of these cancers are diagnosed each year.

Vaginal cancer: HPV causes about 75% of vaginal cancers and there are about 500 vaginal cancers diagnosed each year.

Vulvar Cancer: HPV causes about 50% of vulvar cancers and an estimated 2,100 vulvar cancers are diagnosed each year.

Penile Cancer: About 63% of penile cancers are linked to HPV and there are about 600 penile cancers diagnosed each year.

HPVFactVsFiction6.jpgWith HPV vaccines, we can prevent many of these cancers before they exist.

Getting the recommended HPV vaccine series, beginning at age 11-12, helps ensure our children are protected before they are exposed to HPV infections.  There are several FDA approved HPV vaccines that are highly effective at preventing the strains that cause the majority of HPV-related cancers.

To learn more about the different available HPV vaccines, as well as how they can effectively prevent many cancers, see another Shot of Prevention post, “Questioning Whether To Get Your Child an HPV Vaccine? Read This” here.     

Cancer Treatment  Vaccines

In addition to these two preventative cancer vaccines, there is a lot of research going into immunotherapy and various cancer treatment vaccines.

Back in April 2010, the FDA approved the first cancer treatment vaccine for use in some men with metastatic prostate cancer.  There is also research being conducted to develop treatment vaccines for various other types of cancers.

To learn more about the different types of treatment vaccines and those currently undergoing clinical trials, visit The American Cancer Society website and the National Cancer Institute’s clinical trials database.


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