The HPV Vaccine? Yes!
Some people have been waiting until more data is collected before getting vaccinated or having their children vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV). Vaccination rates in the United States through 2015 remain low, with only 40% of girls and 21% of boys completing the three-dose cycle, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The vaccine is recommended for people in the 11-26 age range.
After taking a look at what we know so far, City of Hope, along with other National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers, issued a statement: “The HPV vaccination is our best defense in stopping HPV infection in our youth and preventing HPV-related cancers in our communities. The HPV vaccine is cancer prevention.”
Mark Wakabayashi, M.D., M.P.H., co-director of the Gynecological Oncology/Peritoneal Malignancy Program at City of Hope, mentions three developments to help convince people to get their children vaccinated:
- The HPV vaccine is safe. “One of the biggest myths I hear about the vaccine is that it will cause a full-blown HPV infection,” Wakabayashi says. “However, that is not possible, because the vaccine does not contain any genetic material from the virus.” Side effects that have been reported after the injection include fever, headache, fatigue, nausea, muscle or joint pain and pain, redness or swelling at the injection site.
- Boys and young men should get the vaccine, too. While the vaccine’s biggest impact is reducing incidence of cervical cancer, HPV infections are also linked to oral, anal and penile cancers, as well as genital warts. The vaccine can prevent many of these diseases. “Vaccinating boys and men helps boost ‘herd immunity’ by blocking the virus’s transmission in communities,” Wakabayashi adds.
- The latest vaccine provides even more protection. Gardasil 9, the newest version of the vaccine, protects against nine HPV types that cause 90% of cervical cancers and genital warts, whereas previous vaccines covered only 70% of cervical cancers. Wakabayashi recommends that eligible patients who were previously vaccinated with Gardasil or Cervarix consider getting the Gardasil 9 vaccine for enhanced prevention.
Even those who have been vaccinated should continue to follow the standard cervical cancer screening schedule, Wakabayashi recommends. “Additionally, women should see their gynecologists right away if they experience symptoms, regardless of their last Pap smear or having been vaccinated,” he notes, adding that this can be critical for catching cervical cancer at its earliest, most treatable stages. Symptoms that justify a visit to the doctor include abnormal vaginal bleeding, menstrual periods that are heavier or longer than usual, unusual discharge from the vagina or pain during intercourse.