April 20, 2015
Big news: A vaccination is available
to prevent cancer. The vaccine, when given to preteens, can help prevent them
from contracting oropharyngeal cancer, a head-neck cancer affecting the throat
and tonsils. Human papillomavirus (HPV), for which a vaccine is available, causes
more than 70 percent of oropharyngeal cancer cases. This particular head and
neck cancer recently became the most common cancer HPV causes, even more common
than cervical cancer.
About 39,500 people will get oral cavity or oropharyngeal
cancer in 2015, and 7,500 people will die from these cancers, according to the
American Cancer Society. During Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month in
April, Texas physicians want to encourage parents to get their adolescents
“We now understand that HPV is an important risk factor for
head and neck cancer,” said oncologist Debra Patt, MD, MPH, MBA, of Austin, and
a member of Texas Medical
Association’s (TMA’s) Committee on Cancer. “I have so many patients, mostly
men, affected by this disease, and knowing this is now largely preventable
makes prevention efforts more important.”
ties to cervical cancer have been widely reported, but oropharyngeal cancer has
surpassed cervical cancer in number of cases, according to the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention. On average, 12,417 cases of HPV-related
head-neck cancer are diagnosed annually, compared to 11,422 cases of cervical
cancer. White men between the ages of 35 and 55 who
don’t smoke are most frequently affected by head and neck cancer, almost four
times more than women, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted
infection in the nation. More than half of sexually active people will have the
virus sometime in their lives.
Dr. Patt said stopping the HPV
infection can help prevent the cancer. That’s why doctors recommend HPV
vaccination for boys and girls. And getting the vaccination before they are
exposed to the HPV virus, which is transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin or
sexual contact, is important.
Doctors recommend 11- and
12-year-old boys get the vaccine, though males 9 through 21 years of age — even
as old as age 26 — might benefit. Girls should get the vaccination at 11 or 12 years
of age, but they can get it as early as 9 and through age 26.
The HPV vaccine, which requires
three shots over a six-month period for full coverage, is safe and effective.
The current vaccine, introduced in 2006, protects against cervical and other
genital cancers, along with genital warts. Health researchers recently
developed an improved HPV vaccine to provide even greater protection.
“Unfortunately, many individuals will remain at risk because
their parents made a decision not to vaccinate them against HPV and protect
them from oropharyngeal and other cancers,” said Dr. Patt.
In Texas, less than half of boys aged 13-17 years (48
percent) completed the vaccination series, according to the 2013 National
Immunization Survey — Teen. For girls, the vaccination rate is higher, with 74
percent completing the series.
Texas legislator, Rep. John Zerwas, MD (R-Richmond), wants to see those numbers
improve. Rep. Zerwas recently introduced House Bill 1282, which calls for the
creation of a strategic plan for HPV-associated cancer. The bill seeks to increase vaccination and screening rates and reduce the amount
of HPV-related cancer illness and death.
published a fact
sheet about the importance of HPV vaccination, in
English and Spanish.
TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing
more than 48,000 physician and medical student members. It is located in Austin
and has 110 component county medical societies around the state. TMA’s key
objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans. TMA actively works
to improve immunization rates in Texas through its Be Wise — Immunize program.
Be Wise works with local communities to give free and low-cost shots to Texans,
and educate people about the importance of vaccination. More than 277,000 shots
have been given to Texas children, adolescents, and adults through the Be Wise
program since 2004.
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Be Wise — Immunize is a service mark of
the Texas Medical Association.
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