Preventing Cancer With the HPV Vaccine
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the human papillomavirus (HPV) causes nearly 36,000 cases of cancer per year in the United States. However, the HPV vaccine can prevent up to 33,000 of these cancers, thus saving countless lives. As an advocate for proactive patients, Pegalis Law Group, LLC examines how the HPV vaccine works to prevent certain forms of cancer among men and women.
What Is the Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?
With more than 200 different types, the human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted agent in the United States. At least 40 types of HPV are spread through direct sexual contact. While condoms can lower the chance of HPV transmission, they are not 100% effective at preventing it. Forms of this virus infect various body sites, including the skin, anogenital areas, and the lining inside the oral cavity. According to the CDC, nearly 85% of sexually active people will be infected with HPV within their lifetimes. Most HPV infections do not cause cancer or other serious diseases. However, long-lasting high-risk HPV infections can lead to cancers of the penis, cervix, vagina, vulva, anus, or back of the throat in men and women. About a dozen high-risk HPV types are responsible for HPV-related cancers, which account for about five percent of all cancers worldwide.
What Puts People at a Greater Risk for HPV-Related Cancers?
Because cancer often takes years or decades to form, there is no way to know who may develop cancer from HPV. However, risk factors make people more likely to develop cancer or other health concerns caused by HPV. People who became sexually active at a younger age or have had a greater number of sexual partners are more at risk due to more exposure to different types of HPV. Inconsistent condom use, smoking, immunocompromising conditions, and a history of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, also put people at greater risk of not clearing the virus. Those with persistent HPV infections are also at a greater risk for HPV to progress to cancer.
HPV-Related Cancers Have Been Decreasing With the Vaccine
The HPV vaccine has been around for over 15 years, with over 135 million doses safely distributed across the United States. HPV vaccines are not infectious, meaning they cannot cause HPV infections or cancer, nor have they been linked with any fertility issues. The HPV vaccine stimulates the production of antibodies that help prevent the virus from infecting cells when the body encounters the virus.
According to the CDC, HPV vaccination can prevent over 90% of HPV-related cancers when administered before a person has contact with the HPV virus. HPV-related cancer rates have been steadily decreasing in the United States since the vaccine’s introduction. However, they continue to be a concern in low- and middle-income countries without widespread access to the vaccine. Both the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitor HPV vaccines closely to ensure they remain safe and effective.
When Should People Get the HPV Vaccine?
The HPV vaccine is the most effective at preventing HPV infections leading to cancers when received before the age of 15. Most children get the HPV vaccine between the ages of 11 and 12, with two doses over 6-12 months. However, children as young as 9 years old may get the vaccine. Children over the age of 15 will need three doses spaced over six months. Side effects from the vaccine may include minor pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site, fever, dizziness, nausea, headache, or fatigue.
The CDC recommends talking to your child’s doctor during their annual checkup or sports physical. If you were not vaccinated as a child, you can get the HPV vaccine as an adult (up to age 45). However, it may not be as effective since you’ve likely been exposed to HPV. Early prevention works best with HPV.
Creating Public Awareness About Universal Healthcare Concerns
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