Since its introduction in 2006, more than 100 million Americans have received the vaccine for human papillomavirus, or HPV, and the results are encouraging.
Research using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates the vaccine is reducing cervical precancers and the rate of cervical cancer deaths is on the decline.
“The vaccine is working and that’s important because HPV is a very common virus,” said Dr. Jamie Rigden, a board-certified St. Luke’s cancer specialist at Liberty Hospital. “More than 80 percent of people have been exposed to it during their life. HPV is the cause of 33,000 cancer deaths each year, with cervical cancer being the most common.”
The vaccine helps prevent infection from HPV viruses linked to six cancers. Currently, it is the only vaccination that may help prevent cancer. Multiple studies have concluded that the vaccinations are safe and highly effective at preventing a lasting infection. However, it cannot cure an existing infection.
“The virus is spread by skin-to-skin contact, so that’s why, ideally, the vaccination should be given to people before they become sexually active,” Rigden said. “A good immune response will last a lifetime and help prevent these cancers.”
The FDA recommends the HPV vaccination be given to both boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 13, but it is approved for persons up to age 46. The vaccine is a series of two vaccines if given during these ages. Later in life, the series becomes a series of three vaccines. It must be administered before a person is exposed to the virus, because afterward, it no longer will provide protection.
“If you can prevent cancer by having the vaccine, why wouldn’t you?” Rigden said. “I think it’s important for parents of children in this age group to understand this is a peak time for the vaccine to be given. HPV is preventable, and this vaccine can decrease the risk of developing these cancers by 90 percent.”
Typically the vaccine is administered by primary care physicians and pediatricians. For more information about HPV or questions about your risk associated with the virus or vaccine, talk to your primary care provider.
~ Liberty Hospital