By Jennifer Arnhold, M.D., GYN, Embrace Women’s Health Clinic
If you could get a vaccine that prevented cancer, would you? Well, you can, and it’s available right now.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that has the potential to cause multiple cancers and other conditions, such as genital warts and cervical dysplasia.
HPV is spread through sexual transmission and can infect most males and females in their lifetimes. In fact, 1 in 4 people in the United States is infected with HPV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Each year, about 14 million people become infected, including teens. In most cases, people don’t suffer symptoms, and the virus clears on its own.
However, if the virus worsens, the consequences could be severe. Along with genital warts or cervical dysplasia, it can cause mouth, throat, cervical, vaginal, vulvar, penile and anal cancer. Alarmingly, 2 in 3 people will get genital warts after any kind of genital contact with an infected individual, and regarding cervical cancer, 30 women are diagnosed and 11 women die from it each day.
The good news is that HPV can be prevented. A vaccine exists that is extremely effective at reducing the prevalence of HPV, therefore reducing the risk of these conditions and cancers.
The CDC recommends that children should get the vaccine starting at age 11, and it can be given through the age of 21 in males and 26 in females. It’s not a yearly vaccine. Rather, it’s given in an effective series of three.
The reason for vaccinating so young is we want to vaccinate before sexual activity begins because it’s more effective if you’ve never been exposed to HPV. Plus, it will help the child develop a sufficient immune system.
What prevents you from being vaccinated?
One of the reasons why parents might choose not to vaccinate their children is a general thought that, overall, vaccines are unsafe. However, many years of extensive research have shown these claims to be unfounded.
Because sexual transmission is how HPV is spread, it can be hard for many parents of young children to wrap their head around having to discuss this subject.
It may be uncomfortable, but regardless how the virus is spread, the fact is that the vaccine is a reliable method of prevention. Think about this: Of the more than 30,000 annual cases of HPV-caused cancer in the U.S., the vaccine can prevent about 28,000 cases.
I think this is one of the greatest arguments for getting the HPV vaccine. Not only that, but it decreases the need for anxiety-provoking procedures such as pap smears or colposcopies. In my mind, it’s an absolute win-win. And for parents, it can be a huge benefit your kids later in their lives. A little bit of prevention now can make a big impact later.
Ask your provider if your child is ready for the vaccine.
About the Author: Jennifer Arnhold, M.D., enjoys spoiling her son, Ty, and poodle, Andy. Her hobbies include cooking, yoga and reading. She graduated from medical school in 2000 and performs gynecology and gynecological surgery at Tri-County Health Care in Wadena. You can also see her for outpatient appointments at Embrace Women’s Health Clinic in Baxter.