Taking a Jab at Cervical Cancer with the HPV Vaccine

Cervical cancer will affect around 0.7 percent of women in their lifetime, and most women will be diagnosed before the age of 50. In instances when it is detected in the early stages, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable forms of the disease and the likelihood of surviving for at least five years, with a chance of full recovery is over 70 percent. Thanks to the development of HPV vaccines, in some cases cervical cancer may now be preventable. In fact, HPV vaccination may have the potential to reduce cervical cancer deaths by two thirds worldwide.

Cervical Cancer and HPV

Human Papilloma Viruses (HPVs) is a group comprised of more than 150 viruses. 99 percent of cervical cancer cases are linked to HPV infection. HPV types 16 and 18 are responsible for around 70 percent of all cervical cancers. HPV is spread through direct contact with someone who is infected, this includes: vaginal, oral and anal sex. If a woman is exposed to HPV, usually her immune system will stop the virus from causing any harm. For a small number of women, the virus may survive for a number of years. In this case, it may eventually cause the development of abnormal (cancerous) cells on the cervix. The American Journal of Medicine published a study in 1997, revealing that an estimated three out of four Americans have suffered an HPV infection at some time in their life.

Types of HPV Vaccine

The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that all children between the ages of 11 and 12 get the HPV vaccine, and that male and female teens who have not yet received the vaccine get it now. Young men can be vaccinated through age 21, and young women through age 26. There are currently two HPV vaccines on the market: Gardasil and Cervarix. Cervarix protects against HPV 16 and 18. Gardasil protects against HPV 16 and 18 as well as types 6 and 11, which are HPVs that cause genital warts. Both vaccines must be received in three separate doses over a period of six months to be effective. The second dose should be given one-to months after the first and the third dose should be given six months after the first. If more than six months pass after the second dose, the third dose should still be given to complete the series.

Possible side effects of the HPV vaccine include:

  • soreness or swelling at the site of the injection
  • mild to moderate fever
  • mild headache

The vaccine has been shown to work very well, providing close to 100 percent protection against pre-cancers. Ongoing research indicates that the vaccine is long lasting and should remain effective for up to ten years. In spite of this, studies show that HPV vaccination rates remain low in comparison to other recommended vaccines. Women who receive the HPV vaccine still need to have regular pap tests because there are other types of HPV which can cause cervical cancer.

The Cost of HPV Vaccination

Cost may be one of the factors influencing why young teens are not getting an HPV vaccine. According to the American Cancer Society, each vaccine costs around $130, with the doctor’s fees for administering the shots, this can bring the total cost of the series to up to $500 or more. Many insurance companies will cover the cost if the vaccines are given in compliance with the national health guidelines. Families who are not insured, eligible for Medicaid, Alaska Native, or American Indian are eligible for the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program, which provides free vaccines for children under 18. There are over 44,000 locations throughout the United States that provide VFC including hospitals and clinics. You can call 1-800-232-4636 to find one in your area.

Barriers to Compliance

Another barrier to HPV vaccination stems from the fact that the vaccine must be administered in three doses. Reports suggest that some teen women are not receiving their HPV shots within the recommended time period. Doctors explain that this is due to the fact that teens do not have healthcare appointments as regularly as children do. However, a recent study conducted by Kathleen M. Neuzil, MD, MPH, clinical associate professor of allergy and infectious diseases in the department of global health at the University of Washington in Seattle, shows that late doses of the vaccine may still be equally effective as those taken on time.

The Elephant in the Room

Many parents and healthcare providers may not feel comfortable discussing STDs with young children. For parents, it can be understandably tough to talk to their 11-12 year old about sexually transmitted diseases. Some also think that vaccinating their child against HPV will encourage them to become sexually promiscuous, a study published in Pediatrics, October 2012, shows that this is not the case. The reason that the vaccine is recommended for children so young, is because it works best on someone who has never had sexual intercourse. If you are uncertain how to approach the topic of the HPV virus with your child, reassure them that while you feel they are too young to be having sex, you feel it is important to get them protected from STDs for when the day comes along. Remember not to just focus on diseases but to also discuss safe sex and strong relationships.

Remember, even women who are protected by the HPV vaccine, still need to be pro-active about protecting themselves from cancer by exercising regularly not smoking and having regular pap tests.










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