In the continuing fight to prevent cancer, there are known and unknown risk factors. For example, we know that certain environmental exposures increase the risk of developing some cancers, like lung and skin cancer. Research has also shown that family history sometimes plays a role in the risk of other cancers, such as colon and breast cancer. Studies have now demonstrated that there is a strong link between infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer.
There is currently no cure for HPV. Fortunately, a vaccine for many of the oncogenic – or cancer-causing – strains of HPV is available. Having your child vaccinated against HPV can significantly reduce their risk of developing several types of cancer, including cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, and throat. Additionally, the HPV vaccine can help guard against genital warts and warts in other locations.
Understandably, many parents have questions about HPV, the HPV vaccine, and cancer prevention. Here are some facts to provide some illumination.
HPV is the Most Common Sexually Transmitted Infection
HPV is extremely widespread. In fact, around 80 million people are infected with HPV in the United States. This number represents approximately one-quarter of the total US population. Roughly 14 million new cases of HPV infection occur each year. The majority of sexually active people have HPV, and the virus can be spread through any form of sexual contact – not just vaginal intercourse.
One reason HPV is so widespread is that symptoms are not always obvious. Many people have transient cases of HPV that resolve without causing any apparent signs. However, these asymptomatic people can still transmit the virus to others.
Condoms Do Not Fully Protect Against HPV
Condoms are always a good idea during sexual encounters as they greatly reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections. However, HPV can be contracted through skin-to-skin contact. Unlike other infections like HIV, HPV transmission does not require contact with sexual fluids such as semen. This fact means that a condom is not guaranteed protection against HPV transmission, although condom use is likely to reduce the spread of HPV.
The Recommended Age to Receive the Vaccine is 11-12
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that most children receive the HPV vaccine at age 11-12 years – both girls and boys. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the vaccine for everyone from 9 to 26 years old. In other words, your child can receive the vaccine earlier or later than the recommended 11-12 range.
If your child is younger than 15 when they first receive the vaccine, then they only need two doses. These doses should be 6-12 months apart. However, if a patient is 15 or older, they will need 3 separate doses. The second dose should be given 1-2 months after the first, and the third dose should be received 6 months subsequent to the first dose.
The HPV Vaccine Can Offer Protection Even After HPV Infection
The current HPV vaccine protects against 9 types of cancer-causing HPV strains. So even if a patient is already infected with HPV, the vaccine can still prevent infection with other harmful HPV strains. Both the CDC and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend that the vast majority of children be vaccinated against HPV. Only exceedingly rare conditions or allergies should preclude a child from being vaccinated.
There are Few Side Effects Associated with the HPV Vaccine
The HPV vaccine is extraordinarily safe. Only 0.0003% of patients vaccinated have reported any side effects, and most of these adverse effects were mild, temporary reactions like headaches and nausea. When contrasted with the fact that a fully vaccinated woman is up to 99% less likely to develop cervical cancer than an unvaccinated woman, it is obvious that the benefits of HPV vaccination far outweigh any risks.
There is No Evidence of Increased Sexual Activity among Vaccinated Patients
One common concern among parents is that HPV vaccination will lead to earlier, risky, or increased sexual activity among children. Studies have not demonstrated any evidence that vaccinated patients are more likely to engage in such behaviors than their unvaccinated peers.
Vaccination against HPV is part of responsible parenting and simply makes good sense. Around 70% of all cervical cancer cases and 90% of all incidents of genital warts are caused by HPV strains. The HPV vaccine is a safe and effective method of protecting against these conditions and other life-threatening diseases.
About the Connecticut OBGYN Practice
Dr. John Garofalo, M.D., is an OBGYN located in Fairfield County, Connecticut, providing care for Norwalk, Darien, New Canaan, Weston, Rowaytan and the surrounding areas. He has more than 20 years of practice and surgical experience covering many facets of obstetrics and gynecology.
Laury Berkwitt, APRN, is a nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Laury has a passion for providing quality women’s healthcare in a safe and comfortable manner by creating a trusting patient-practitioner relationship. She has been in practice for more than 10 years, caring for women of all ages.
For more information, go to www.garofaloobgyn.com. John Garofalo, M.D., and Laury Berkwitt, APRN, can be reached for personal consultations by calling 203.803.1098.