Among human cancers, cervical cancer is unique. It has only one cause: HPV, Human Papilloma Virus.
Every year, 10,000 US women get cervical cancer and 4,000 die of the disease. HPV affects men too. It causes genital warts, as well as cancer of the anus, penis, and throat.
Vaccination can prevent HPV infection. When we prevent HPV infection, we prevent cancer.
HPV spreads by genital contact. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the US. Condoms decrease, but don’t completely prevent, transmission between people. Although HPV is common, not everyone infected has symptoms, so it can spread without people even realizing it.
Sandhills Pediatrics recommends and gives Gardasil® to our patients and our own children. Gardasil® contains proteins from 4 types of HPV vaccine: the two most common types that lead to cervical cancer and the two most common types that cause genital warts.
The CDC recommends all adolescents, both boys and girls, between 11 and 12 years of age receive the HPV vaccine. The vaccine is given as a series of three shots; the second shot is given one to two months after the first; and the third shot is given six months after the first.
We get a lot of questions from families about HPV and Gardasil vaccine – here are a few FAQs:
Is HPV vaccine safe? YES! Safety networks monitor reactions to HPV vaccine and 57 million doses have been given since 2006. No cause-effect links have been found between HPV vaccine and adverse events, including blood clots, allergic reactions, strokes, seizures, Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), birth defects, miscarriages, or infant/fetal deaths. Occasionally teens faint after vaccines, so we ask our patients to wait (sitting down) 15 minutes before they leave the office after receiving HPV vaccine.
Does vaccination against HPV work? Trials show HPV vaccine provides close to 100% protection against precancerous cervical changes and for genital warts. Since the vaccine was first recommended in 2006, there has been a 56% reduction in HPV infections among teen girls in the US, even with low HPV vaccination rates. With higher vaccination rates, the decrease will be even higher.
Why so young? It’s best if the three shot series of HPV vaccine is completed before a teen is exposed to HPV. Girls especially are more susceptible to catching HPV during their teen years. If a girl is going to catch HPV, she usually catches it within six to twelve months of the onset of sexual activity. Also, the immune response from the vaccine may be better when it’s given early.
Why was HPV recommended just for girls at first? Studies in girls were completed before studies in boys. It’s now known to be safe and effective in boys too. Males will benefit from the vaccine with fewer cases of genital warts, and fewer cancer cases too.
Will the HPV vaccine make teens more likely to have sex? No! Research studies have shown that getting the HPV vaccine does NOT make kids more likely to become sexually active. As parents talk with teens about decisions they are making about sex, HPV is just one of the topics to include. Early sexual activity is a risk factor for cervical cancer – that’s just one of the lessons you can share with your teen.
My child won’t have sex until marriage – why get this vaccine? HPV is so common that almost everyone gets infected eventually. 14 million new infections occur each year and most people will never know they are infected. Even if your child waits until marriage to have sex, he or she could still be exposed if his or her partner has been exposed.
Where can I find more information? One of our favorite web sites is www.prevent-HPV.org. You’ll find lots of useful information and videos from parents who have chosen to protect their preteens and teens against HPV.