March 1, 2018
More than 30,000 Americans develop one of several kinds
of cancer each year caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) — some of which
will kill them. Fortunately, physicians say a too-seldom-used vaccine can
protect people from HPV-caused cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus,
and oropharynx (head and neck).
The threat is real: About eight in 10 people in the U.S. will
get the potentially deadly HPV virus during their lifetime. HPV is the world’s
most common sexually transmitted infection, which also can spread through
intimate skin-to-skin contact. People in their teens and 20s get most of the 14
million new HPV infections each year. The danger emerges much later.
“These cancers appear about 20 years
after the initial infection,” said Jason Terk, MD, a Keller pediatrician
and member of TMA’s Be Wise — ImmunizeSM Physician Advisory Panel.
About 79 million Americans currently are infected with
HPV, according to the Journal of the
National Cancer Institute. That is nearly equal to the total populations of
Texas, Florida, New York, and Illinois combined.
However, the vaccine against HPV can prevent 13 of the
more than 120 HPV strains that cause cancer — and it’s available for
adolescents and young adults. The HPV vaccine has been around for more than a
decade, but Texas’ vaccination rate is very low — even lower than the national
average, which trails the rate of numerous other countries. Knowing the power
of prevention, the physicians of the Texas Medical Association (TMA) urge
parents to get their adolescents vaccinated.
“Make sure you get your kids vaccinated at 11 or 12 years
of age, so they don’t have to worry about a cancer 20 years later,” said Dr.
“Having a vaccine available that can prevent so many
different cancers is incredible,” said Li-Yu Mitchell, MD, a Tyler family
physician and member of TMA’s Be Wise — ImmunizeSM Physician
The HPV vaccine is 97 percent to 100 percent effective at
preventing cancer-causing HPV infections. HPV shots have no known serious side
effects. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends two
doses of vaccine six months apart for boys and girls younger than 15, as the
shots are most effective if given before people become sexually active.
Older teens and people in their 20s who are sexually
active still can benefit from vaccination, however. The HPV vaccination covers
nine strains of the virus, so the vaccine offers protection against any strain
to which the person has not been exposed. The agency recommends three doses of
the vaccine for those 15 and older.
HPV causes all cervical cancers, which often are lethal.
Cervical cancer also is the world’s fourth most common cancer in women (according
to the World Health Organization).
Head-and-neck cancer diagnoses have become more frequent
than cervical cancer. Between 2008 and 2012, 11,700 cases of cervical cancer in
women and 12,600 head-and-neck cancers in males were reported, according to
CDC. The agency blames about 70 percent of head-and-neck cancers on HPV.
Head-and-neck cancers tend to affect mostly men, usually when they reach their
40s or 50s.
For millions of people with HPV, the virus can be harmless
and go away on its own. However, others will contract cancer, and infections from
some HPV strains also cause genital warts and warts on the hands and feet.
Even though the shot prevents cancer, HPV vaccination
rates in the United States are low. Health reports show in 2015, 40.9 percent of
Texas females got the HPV vaccinations, and less than one in four (24 percent)
of males received the shots. Conversely, Australia has a 73-percent vaccination
Physicians strongly encourage the shots to prevent
unnecessary illness and death.
“As a physician, I have always recommended the HPV series of
vaccines to my patients, and, as a parent, my three kids will definitely be
getting the shots,” said Dr. Mitchell. “Given the benefits without significant
risks, it just makes sense.”
Find more information on HPV and vaccinations on the TMA website.
TMA is the largest state
medical society in the nation, representing more than 51,000 physician and
medical student members. It is located in Austin and has 112 component county
medical societies around the state. TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to
improve the health of all Texans. Be Wise — Immunize is a joint initiative led
by TMA physicians and medical students, and the TMA Alliance. It is funded in
2018 by the TMA Foundation thanks to H-E-B, TMF Health Quality Institute,
Pfizer Inc., and gifts from physicians and their families.
Be Wise — Immunize is a service mark of the Texas Medical
TMA Contacts: 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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