Columns for The Lufkin News

Add HPV Vaccination to Your Kids' Christmas List

Posted Dec 06, 2016 by Sidney C. Roberts, MD, FACR

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) refers to itself as the nation's health protection agency. Among other things, they monitor infectious disease outbreaks (such as Zika, influenza or AIDS), and they issue recommendations for vaccines and immunizations.

There is a quiet epidemic in our country, and it is oral/throat cancer related to human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. We've known about HPV causing almost all cervical cancer for a long time, but the number of oropharyngeal cancers related to HPV infection has risen dramatically in recent years. Ever since actor Michael Douglas announced in 2013 that he suffered from HPV-related throat cancer, people realized HPV poses a threat not only to women, but to men as well.

HPV infection is very common. According to the CDC, 80 million people - about one in four - are currently infected in the United States. There are more than 150 related HPV viruses, but only a handful are responsible for causing most HPV-related cancers.

 HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives. Most of the time, people get HPV from having vaginal and/or anal sex. Men and women can also get HPV from having oral sex or other sex play. Sometimes no symptoms develop, and 9 out of 10 infections go away on their own within a year or two. However, the more serious HPV types can cause the infected person to develop cancer.

The CDC states that HPV infections can cause cancers of the cervix, vagina, and vulva in women; cancers of the penis in men; and cancers of the anus and back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (oropharynx), in both women and men. This year in the United States, HPV will have caused more than 30,000 cancers.

The good news is that there are vaccines against the most significant cancer-causing types of HPV. But for vaccination to be as effective as possible, it needs to be given at age 11-12, before teenagers become sexually active. This isn't about whether or not our kids have sex; it is about lifelong risks of routine sexual activity.

Rather than get hung up on (or deny) how HPV infection happens - and the unpleasant types of cancer it can cause - we should put into practice what the CDC recommends and the American Cancer Society endorses: vaccination of our boys and girls.

As noted above, routine HPV vaccination of all children should be initiated at age 11 or 12. The vaccination series can be started beginning as early as age 9 and up to age 26, though late vaccination is not as effective.

There are several available vaccines, but Gardasil 9 (the newest version) protects against 9 types of HPV that are responsible for about 90% of cancers related to HPV and is now the sole HPV vaccine available through government programs. Even if someone has already had sex, they should still get HPV vaccine. (Even though a person’s first HPV infection usually happens during one of the first few sexual experiences, a person might not be exposed to all of the HPV types that are covered by HPV vaccines.)

According to Debbie Saslow, PhD, Director of Cancer Control Intervention for HPV Vaccination and Women’s Cancers for the American Cancer Society, “HPV vaccination has the potential to prevent tens of thousands of cancers and hundreds of thousands of pre-cancers each year." 

If you could prevent your child from getting cervical, vaginal, vulvar, anal, penile, and oropharyngeal cancer, why wouldn't you? HPV vaccination may be the best, long-term gift you can provide for your kids.

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Sidney C. Roberts, MD, FACR

Sidney C. Roberts, MD, FACR

Radiation Oncologist

Madelene Collier, RN, OCN

Madelene Collier, RN, OCN

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Jewel Randle, RT (R)(T)

Jewel Randle, RT (R)(T)

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Aimee Salas, RT (T)

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Julie McClain, RT (R)(T)

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Linda Miller, MS

Linda Miller, MS

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Evelyn Leach

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