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Questioning Whether To Get Your Child the HPV Vaccine? Read This

January 21, 2016 5 comments

iStock_000039978628_Double.jpgIn June 2006, the first human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine was licensed for use in the U.S.  Rather than celebrate the development of a vaccine to prevent a deadly form of cancer, many parents have instead been misguided by fear.  As a result of persistent internet stories and inaccurate myths that question the safety of HPV vaccines, parents continue to refuse or delay HPV vaccines for their children, and one of the most effective ways to prevent cancer is being grossly underutilized.

Although millions of doses of HPV vaccines have been administered in the past 10 years, some parents still fear what may happen if their child gets an HPV vaccine. 

What they should fear is what may happen if they don’t.

I offer the following information about HPV because everyone should understand where their fears ought to be directed: at the disease, not the vaccine designed to prevent it.

1)  It’s not about sex, it’s about cancer.

Regardless of what parents choose to teach (or not teach) their kids about sex, abstinence or contraception, the HPV vaccine is vital to the health of our children because it protects them from cancer.

By preventing people from contracting certain strains of a highly prevalent infection, we can then prevent the possibility of HPV infections turning into cancerous cells. An HPV infection is often contracted shortly after sexual debut, and can eventually lead to cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus or throat. Since the majority of these cancers have no formal screening measures, they often go undetected until they are well advanced.

2)  Nearly all sexually-active individuals will contract HPV at some point in their lives. 

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States and is often referred to as the common cold of the genitals. HPV is not a new virus, but many people are unfamiliar with how dangerous and prevalent it is. Consider these staggering statistics:

Not only is HPV infection common, but most people rarely know they’re infected because it typically occurs without any symptoms.  Since it’s possible to develop symptoms years after first being infected, it’s especially difficult to diagnose exactly when a person first became infected.

In about 90% of cases, an HPV infection will eventually clear in about a year or two. However, during that time, those infected with HPV are often unknowingly spreading the infection to others.

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3)  As many as 10% of those infected will eventually develop cancer. 

While 90% of people may clear the infection, the other 10% end up developing cancerous cells years, or even decades, after initial exposure.  Since there is no way to determine which cases will clear and which will lead to cancer, universal vaccination is the most effective means of prevention.

The following data reveals just how many cancer cases are linked to HPV each year:

Cervical cancer: Almost all cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV and more than 11,000 women in the U.S. alone get cervical cancer each year.  When looking at the bigger picture, 528,000 new cases of cervical cancer were diagnosed worldwide in 2012.

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.

Genital Warts: There are more than 40 types of HPV that specifically affect the genital area. However, 90% of genital warts are caused by HPV types 6 or 11 and about 360,000 people in the U.S. get genital warts each year.

Since there is no test to check one’s overall HPV status, and no standard screening to detect HPV in the mouth or throat, getting an HPV vaccine is an effective way to prevent illness rather than leave people vulnerable to infections that can lead to cancer.

Some argue that since there is a test to screen for cervical cancer that this eliminates the need for vaccination among women.  While cervical cancer screenings are vitally important, they don’t prevent infection.  Instead, they help identify precancerous lesions. Once lesions are discovered, women may then need to endure various invasive and painful procedures.  These may include cone biopsies used to help diagnose precancerous or cancerous cells, and a loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) often used to burn off precancerous lesions.  Additionally, cervical cancer screenings don’t help identify other HPV related cancers or help screen of men or adolescents for HPV.  With the vaccine we can prevent cancers before they exist.

4)  Surprise…you don’t have to have sex to get HPV.

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