A Vaccine for Cancer? HPV Shot Protects Against Cervical Cancer for Life
What if there was a vaccine for cancer? People would line up to get it. What if I told you a vaccine already exists for cervical cancer, and nearly anyone can and should get it?
What Causes Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is the fourth most frequent cancer in women. It’s almost always caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), which is spread through skin-to-skin contact and is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S.
There are several strains of HPV. Some strains cause genital warts and some cause abnormal cellular changes in the cervix (lower part of the uterus). Sometimes, those abnormal cellular changes – called dysplasia – become cervical cancer.
How Long Has the HPV Vaccine Been Around?
That process can often be stopped – and cancer avoided – with a vaccination which has been in use since 2006. The HPV vaccine was originally recommended for girls beginning at age 12 but is now recommended as young as age 9 and through age 45 for females and males.
The reason is simple: the vaccine works to prevent the HPV types which cause 90 percent of cervical cancers, and it’s covered by most insurances. Researchers have found that the vaccine has reduced number of cervical pre-cancers in the U.S., according to a study using data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).1
Myths and Facts Surrounding the HPV Vaccine
If you’re still on the fence about getting your child – or yourself – vaccinated, consider these myths and facts about the HPV vaccine.
Myth: The HPV vaccine is only for girls who are sexually active.
Fact: We need to stop framing the issue this way. The HPV vaccine simply prevents pre-cancer and cervical cancer. Once you receive the vaccine, you are protected for life.
Myth: The vaccine is for girls only.
Fact: The HPV vaccine protects males from spreading HPV to females. But it can also prevent HPV infections which cause genital warts, cancers of the penis, anus and throat. By getting the vaccine, boys and men are protecting themselves and others.
Myth: It’s better to wait until my child is older.
Fact: The vaccine requires two doses or shots starting at age 9. At age 15, three doses or shots are needed over a six-month period.
Myth: I’m too old for an HPV vaccination.
Fact: I would argue that it’s never too late. The FDA expanded approval to include men and women ages 27 to 45. It is true that approximately 80% of women have acquired an HPV infection by age 50, but the vaccine is still beneficial because it covers many types of HPV infections. There is no scientific reason the entire population couldn’t receive it.
Myth: There are risks to being immunized.
Fact: The data for the vaccine is quite excellent and we’ve found no risks. The only side effect is some arm pain from the shot.
For more information on how you can prevent and detect cancer, please learn more about our Cancer Care Services at CHI Health.
Dr. Robin Farias-Eisner is a Gynecologic Oncology provider at CHI Health. To learn more about Dr. Farias-Eisner, please visit his provider profile.