HPV: a vaccine to prevent cancer

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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.Child receiving HPV vaccine at shoulder

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.

Diverse group of teenage friends hang out outside together at a local park or school campus.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.

photo of doctor Jennifer Arnhold


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.

Reducing Your Risk for Cervical Cancer

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cervcancIn the month of January we raise awareness nationally about cervical cancer, in hopes of continuing to reduce the number of Americans affected by this disease. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services there are 12,000 new people diagnosed each year, and primarily in women over the age of 30. Roughly 79 million Americans are currently living with the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is the main cause of cervical cancer.

I always tell my patients that you can be proactive and work to prevent the incidence for you or a family member by: toolkit_badge_jan

  • Having the HPV vaccine (shots) that can prevent HPV.
  • Regular screening tests (called Pap tests) can often prevent Cervical Cancer by finding the abnormal cells early, so you prevent them turning into cancer.

Most deaths from cervical cancer could be prevented by having regular Pap tests and annual appointments with your provider. The Center for Disease Control found that around 50% of the patients diagnosed with cervical cancer never had cervical cytology testing, and another 10% had not been screened within the 5 years before diagnosis.

There has been much discussion over the years about when is the best age to start getting tested and the frequency. I follow the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommendation of:

  • Younger than 21 – You do not need a screening.
  • 21 – 29 years old – Have a Pap test every 3 years.
  • 30 – 65 years old – Have a Pap test + an HPV test (co-testing) every 5 years or a Pap test alone every 3 years.
  • 65 years or older – You do not need a screening if you have no history, and either have had three negative Pap test results in a row, or two negative co-test results in a row within the last 10 years.
Dr. Arnhold

Dr. Arnhold

A majority of insurance plans cover well-woman visits and cervical cancer screenings. The incidence of cervical cancer in the United States has decreased by more than 50% in the past 30 years and that’s directly correlated to raising awareness about the importance of these tests.

If you have questions about these screenings or would like to schedule an appointment at Tri-County Health Care, call 218-631-1100, or Embrace Women’s Health Clinic in Baxter at 218-454-1754.

About the Author: Jennifer Arnhold, MD, lives with her husband, three-year old son and poodle in the Brainerd Lakes Area. She graduated from medical school in 2000 and performs gynecology and gynecological surgery at Tri-County Health Care in Wadena, MN. You can also see her for outpatient appointments at Embrace Women’s Health Clinic in Baxter.