A new study shows a vaccination is helping children and
young women avoid a common cancer-causing virus. The human
papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, when given to preteens and young adults, can help
prevent them from getting cancer years later.
According to the study, released this week in Pediatrics,
rates of HPV infection (for the four strains covered by the vaccine)
have dropped 64 percent in girls aged 14 to 19 years since the vaccine was
introduced, and rates have fallen 34 percent for women aged 20 to 24. HPV rates
went from 11.5 percent to 4.3 percent for teens and from 18.5 percent to 12.1
percent for young women. Data on boys and young men are not yet available.
“This is an incredibly important public health improvement,”
said oncologist Debra Patt, MD, of Austin, and
a member of Texas MedicalAssociation’s (TMA’s) Council on Science and Public Health. “We know that
by reducing HPV infection rates, the vaccination will effectively prevent
cancer from developing.”
HPV causes several types of cancer
that affect men and women, including cervical, penile, and oropharyngeal
(cancers of the head and neck such as throat and mouth). An HPV-related cancer
is diagnosed every 20 minutes, affecting 27,000 Americans each year, according
to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“HPV is a substantial risk factor
for many of the cancers we’re seeing,” said Dr. Patt, also a consultant to
TMA’s Committee on Cancer. “And we
usually don’t diagnose them until they are in the advanced stages and more
difficult to treat, making prevention even more important.”
National Cancer Prevention Month in February, Texas physicians want to ensure people
include an HPV vaccination as part of their cancer prevention arsenal, as the
new study reaffirms.
HPV vaccination is recommended for preteen boys and girls, aged 11 and 12
years, but can be given as early as age 9.
The sooner the better, doctors say.
Dr. Patt says the vaccine provides the most benefit in children younger than 14
years of age, and the new study bears that out. “Getting the vaccination before
being exposed to the HPV virus is key.”
Nonetheless, HPV vaccination also
is recommended for older teens and young adults who didn’t get it when they
were younger, or who didn’t complete the three-shot series. Males can get the
vaccine through 21 years of age and up to age 26 if they are at high risk.
Females can get vaccinated through age 26.
HPV is the most common infection in
the nation spread through intimate skin-to-skin or sexual contact. Almost
all (80 percent) of sexually active people will have the virus sometime in
their lives. Most HPV infections will go away, but some won’t. These are the
ones that cause genital warts and cancer years or decades later.
“Knowing which teens will
suffer long-term effects from HPV is unpredictable when they’re young and able
to benefit most from vaccination,” said Dr. Patt. “So
having everyone get vaccinated to prevent the HPV infection is the best way to
avoid the cancer.”
Almost all cervical cancers are
caused by HPV, the most common cancer caused by the virus. HPV also causes more
than 90 percent of anal cancers and nearly three-quarters of vaginal and
back-of-the-throat cancers, according to CDC. Dr. Patt says doctors are seeing
an increase in head and neck cancers.
The HPV vaccine requires three
shots over a six-month period. HPV vaccines have been available since 2006, but
a new version, the HPV9 vaccine, provides even more protection because it
covers nine strains of the virus that cause the most cancers. People should choose
among these vaccine options with their physician.
Paying for the vaccine shouldn’t be a barrier. Most
insurance companies, the TexasVaccines for Children Program, and the Adult Safety Net program pay for HPV
vaccine. The Texas Department of State Health Services created the Adult Safety Net to make
vaccinations available to uninsured adults.
“People suffer, and some die from the cancers caused by HPV,”
said Dr. Patt. “To know many of my patients could have prevented their cancer
with a few shots compels me to continue to spread this message. I want to give parents
an opportunity to help their children avoid cancer with preventive vaccination.”
TMA has published an infographic and factsheet about the importance of HPV vaccination, both
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 — ImmunizeSM 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 300,000 shots
have been given to Texas children, adolescents, and adults through the Be Wise
program since 2004.
Be Wise — Immunize is a service mark of
the Texas Medical Association.
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Marcus Cooper (512) 370-1382; cell: (512)
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