I’m thinking of having my 12-year-old daughter vaccinated for the HPV virus. What’s your opinion?
You may have recently heard actor Michael Douglas talk about the virus HPV and its link to his throat cancer. The good news is that we have a vaccine for Human Papillomavirus (HPV) that prevents 97-100% of infections of this sexually transmitted disease (STD).
The bad news? Only 53% of 11- to 12-year-old girls are getting the vaccine, and only 33% are getting the recommended three-dose series.
What is HPV? HPV is a virus, known to be the cause of both cervical cancer and esophageal and throat cancers. Each year in the U.S., 26,000 new HPV-related cervical cancers are diagnosed. HPV also triples your risk for esophageal cancer (the sixth leading cause of cancer death worldwide). In fact, it’s known to cause 70% of all oral cancers, primarily contracted by performing oral sex on a partner.
HPV is extremely common, with over 80% of people testing positive for it within five years of becoming sexually active. (Boys and men can become infected, too, with some shared and other sex-specific health problems.)
What are the symptoms of HPV?
Unfortunately, most people don’t have any idea that they are infected with HPV until problems arise. Only later, when they’re told they have cancerous or pre-cancerous lesions on the cervix do they realize that they’ve been infected. Meanwhile, they may have be having unprotected sex with other partners, passing the virus on.
What’s the vaccine?
There are two FDA-approved vaccines: Gardasil and Cervarix, and they’re recommended for routine vaccination to all girls between the ages of 11 and 12. Both come in a three-shot series, to be given over a six-month period. It’s been shown to be very effective in studies—with a 97-100% reduction in HPV infection rates for those people that get the vaccine—and a consequent lower risk for both cervical and throat/oral and esophageal cancers. If someone missed the vaccine at age 11-12, the American Cancer Society recommends a “catch-up” vaccination for females ages 13-18.
How safe are the vaccines?
Both appear to be safe in trials, with the greatest amount of data for Gardasil (it was released first). The vast majority (92%) of side effects are mild and include typical reactions to any shot, such as pain/redness/swelling at the injection site, or passing out when you get a shot—although this is uncommon and can happen with other shots as well.
What about the boys? 2011 guidelines from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices also recommend the vaccination to males ages 11-12.
Bottom line? The vaccine is the best method we have to prevent our children from contracting the extremely common HPV and to reduce their risk of cervical and oral/throat and esophageal cancers. For more information, speak with your pediatrician or family practice doctor.
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