“It’s not called the ‘cervical cancer prevention vaccine.’ Maybe it should be.”
–Debbie Saslow, director of breast and gynecologic cancer at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta. (USAToday)
Elizabeth Weise has the good news that should surprise no one:
A vaccine against the human papillomavirus has decreased the incidence of the cancer-causing virus among teenage girls by 56%, despite being available since only 2006.
Wow. The HPV vaccine — created to prevent sexually-transmitted infections with human papillomavirus (and the cancer consequences of that infection) — works as well as we were told it would. Numerous studies have also shown that it’s safe (just like pediatricians have been saying!). The number of people with HPV infections would be even lower if more boys and girls received the vaccine AND they completed the series of three injections. (Injection number two occurs two months after the first injection, and number three occurs four months later. The series of three injections should take no more than six months).
Here’s more on the recommendations for HPV vaccination from Richard Knox:
The current recommendation is that girls get the HPV vaccine when they are 11 or 12, before the initiation of sexual activity, when the vaccine produces the best protection. Females up to age 26 are urged to get the three-shot course if they have not received the vaccine earlier.
The recommendation is similar for boys, in whom HPV can cause genital warts along with penile and anal cancers, except that the so-called catch-up vaccination is recommended for males only up to age 21.
It’s not just cervical cancer in females that we are trying to prevent. HPV is now the leading cause of oral cancer — specifically tongue and throat cancers — in both men and women, surpassing the roles that alcohol and tobacco play in the etiology of these brutal cancers. Some more important stats from Sabrina Tavernise:
There are about 12,000 cases of cervical cancer and 4,000 deaths a year in the United States. At current vaccination rates, the vaccine would prevent 45,000 cases of cervical cancer and 14,000 deaths among girls now age 13 and younger over the course of their lifetimes, according to C.D.C. estimates. Increasing the rate to 80 percent could prevent an additional 53,000 cancers and nearly 17,000 deaths.
Federal officials on Wednesday sought to dispel fears about the vaccine, and emphasized its role in preventing cervical cancer.
“This is an anticancer vaccine,” Dr. Frieden said.
About 79 million Americans, most in their late teens and early 20s, are infected with HPV, or about a quarter of the American population. Each year, about 14 million people become infected. The virus causes about 19,000 cancers in women every year, and 8,000 in men, according to the C.D.C. Cervical cancer is the most common among women; among men, throat cancer is most common.
Again, I ask those who refuse to immunize their children: Why would you refuse to do all you could to prevent these brutal forms of cancer in your children? What else can you do, as a parent, to prevent exposure of human papillomavirus to your children as they become older teenagers and adults except vaccinating them? The fact is that all you can do to prevent HPV infection is either refrain from sexual activity (forever) or get immunized. What’s it going to be for your children? Phil Plait has already decided that science will prevail for his own child:
The vaccine raised a hue and a cry from both the antivax left, and the sexually conservative right—HPV is a sexually transmitted disease. However, the NBC article reports that the CDC has found no evidence of major adverse effects, nor has there been an increase in sexual activity among girls who have had the shots. So really, no one should complain.
But they will. This isn’t an issue people decide based on facts, it’s an issue they decide based on emotion and bias. That’s too bad, because a decision this important should be made through a careful analysis of the evidence, not on antiscience.
For the record: My own daughter received all three shots several years ago. My wife and I feel pretty good about that.
If you’re a parent, talk to your board-certified doctor to find out more, and read the links I’ve provided above as well. Science and medicine are providing you with a simple way to protect your children from terrible, and potentially fatal, diseases. As a parent myself, that’s something I take very seriously.
Abstract from study in Journal of Infectious Diseases here.
More PediaBlog coverage of HPV here.