On Wednesday, the UK Markey Cancer Center, along with 68 of the nation’s top cancer centers, issued a statement urging young people in the U.S. to get a vaccination against the human papillomavirus, or HPV.
HPV, which is sexually transmitted, is responsible for about 27,000 new cancer cases in the U.S. each year, causing nearly all cervical and anal cancers and also the majority of throat and vaginal cancers, too.
Luckily, the HPV vaccine offers substantial protection against this threat. Unfortunately, not enough people are taking advantage of this rare opportunity to prevent many types of cancer.
In Kentucky, only about 37 percent of girls and 13 percent of boys complete the vaccination schedule, leaving a significant portion of the population at risk. That’s why Markey and others are calling upon the physicians, parents and young adults to learn more about the benefit of receiving the HPV vaccine.
“Although we have made progress in the past several years, Kentucky continues to rank first in the nation for both cancer incidence and mortality,” said Dr. Mark Evers, director of the UK Markey Cancer Center. “We are still in the top 10 nationally for cervical cancer deaths, and increasing the HPV vaccination rates will significantly lower this grim statistic.”
Understanding the benefits of the HPV vaccine might convince you that it’s right for you or someone you know.
The HPV vaccine protects against more than cervical cancer.
The vaccine actually protects against several types of cancer. It does so by targeting certain strains of HPV. These infections are spread through sexual contact. They can cause genital warts. But most cause no symptoms and go away without treatment.
Some HPV infections may linger for years in your body. These viruses may damage cells, eventually causing cancer. The HPV vaccine prevents those strains responsible for the majority of cervical cancers. It may also prevent HPV infections that lead to cancers of the throat, anus, penis and vagina.
The HPV vaccine is recommended for boys, girls, young men and young women.
In 2006, health experts recommended the HPV vaccine for females ages 9 to 26. But its potential to prevent other cancers besides that of the cervix made it appropriate for boys and young men, too. Doctors now encourage males ages 9 to 26 to also receive the vaccine.
Two types of HPV vaccine are available. They are Gardasil and Cervarix. Gardasil is approved for use in both sexes. Cervarix is only for girls and young women. Ideally, three doses of either vaccine are given over a 6-month period at ages 11 or 12 before any sexual activity.
The HPV vaccine is effective.
The HPV vaccine may not protect against all HPV infections that may promote cancer. But it can substantially lower the risk. In a recent study, researchers compared the HPV history of more than 4,000 women ages 14 to 59 over two 4-year periods. Those timeframes included 2003 to 2006—before the HPV vaccine became available—and 2007 to 2010—after it was in use. They found that the vaccine cut in half the number of HPV infections in girls ages 14 to 19.
The HPV vaccine is safe.
Past research including nearly 60,000 participants has confirmed the vaccine’s safety. But like all vaccines, side effects are possible. Most are minor. They may include pain and redness at the injection site, fever, dizziness or nausea. Some people have fainted after receiving the shot. In rare cases, blood clots and Guillain-Barré syndrome — a disorder that weakens muscles — have been reported.
Women who receive the HPV vaccine should still schedule regular Pap tests.
Pap tests detect abnormal cells in the cervix. They alert your doctor to potential cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine may prevent future HPV infections, but it doesn’t treat pre-existing ones. It also doesn’t prevent all types of cervical cancer. For these reasons, women should still schedule regular Pap tests.
- If you or someone you love is interested in receiving the HPV vaccine, schedule an appointment with the Markey Cancer Center online or at 859-323-5553.
- Read a blog by Dr. Hatim Omar, chief of the Adolescent Medicine at UK HealthCare, about the importance of including the HPV vaccine in all young adults’ health care plans.
- Learn more about the Gynecologic Oncology Team at the Markey Cancer Center