Cancer-Prevention Vaccination Now Easier, Just as Effective

Feb. 22, 2017 

Preventing cancer just got a little easier. Adolescents under age 15 now need only two shots to prevent human papillomavirus (HPV), rather than three doses of vaccine as physicians previously recommended. HPV causes several cancers that sicken and kill both men and women, and the shots prevent HPV.

The 2017 vaccination schedules, released earlier this month from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reflect the change in HPV vaccination recommendation. When the HPV vaccine was introduced in 2006, it was given in three doses over six months. CDC announced the new recommendation because studies showed two doses were just as effective for kids aged 9-14 years, the group that benefits most from the shots.

“The key to preventing HPV is getting vaccinated before being exposed to it,” said David Lakey, MD, chair of Texas Medical Association’s (TMA’s) Council on Science and Public Health. “The new CDC recommendations reinforce the benefit of getting the vaccine in the early adolescent years.”

During National Cancer Prevention Month in February, Texas physicians want to ensure parents help their adolescents and teens avoid cancer down the road by getting them vaccinated to prevent HPV.

Physicians and other health experts recommend the HPV vaccination for preteen boys and girls, aged 11 and 12 years, but it can be given as early as age 9. The second dose of HPV vaccine should be given six to 12 months after the first dose.

Doctors are seeing more cancers caused by HPV, with a new case diagnosed in someone every 20 minutes. CDC says that equates to 30,000 Americans getting an HPV-related cancer each year, including cervical, penile, anal, vaginal, and oropharyngeal (cancers of the head and neck such as the throat and mouth).

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 will not. These cases cause genital warts and cancer years or even decades later.

“HPV cancers often aren’t diagnosed until they are advanced, making treatment more difficult, lengthy, and expensive,” said Dr. Lakey, a pediatric infectious disease specialist in Austin. “The vaccine is safe, effective, and simple to administer. It provides an opportunity for us to do something now that will protect and preserve the health of our children throughout their lives. That’s an opportunity we should seize,” said Dr. Lakey.

Older teens and young adults who weren’t vaccinated in adolescence, or who didn’t get all the shots in the series, can still benefit from HPV vaccination. Both males and females can get the shots until age 26. For those over age 15, however, CDC still recommends the three-shot series. People should ask their physician about how many doses are needed and when.

Paying for the vaccine shouldn’t be a barrier. Most insurance companies, the Texas Vaccines 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.

TMA has published an infographic about the importance of HPV vaccination, both in English and Spanish.

TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing more than 50,000 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 315,000 shots have been given to Texas children, adolescents, and adults through the Be Wise program since 2004. Be Wise — Immunize is a joint initiative led by TMA physicians, medical students, and the TMA Alliance. It is funded by TMA Foundation thanks to major gifts from H-E-B and TMF Health Quality Institute, along with generous contributions from physicians and their families.

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Be Wise — Immunize is a service mark of the Texas Medical Association.

Contact: Brent Annear (512) 370-1381; cell: (512) 656-7320; email: brent.annear[at]texmed[dot]org

Marcus Cooper (512) 370-1382; cell: (512) 650-5336; email: marcus.cooper[at]texmed[dot]org

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Last Updated On

April 20, 2018

Originally Published On

February 22, 2017

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