Cervical cancer, HPV and the vaccine that can prevent them
Dr. Paul L. Geltman, MD, is the Medical Director of Ambulatory Services and Director of Primary Care Pediatrics at Franciscan Children’s. Franciscan Children’s Pediatrics is dedicated to providing excellence in primary care for infants, children and adolescents. If you would like to set up an appointment for your child, please call us at 617-779-1500.
As a Pediatrician, I field numerous questions on a daily basis from concerned parents. In recent years, I’ve seen an increase in questions surrounding cervical cancer, HPV, and steps that parents can take to protect their children from these potentially fatal forms of cancer. These have become increasingly personal topics, as most people can think of someone in their circle of friends or family who has been affected by cervical cancer. For me, it was my mother who passed away from cancer of the cervix and uterus.
In the health care world, cervical cancer has consistently been a hot topic. It is most commonly caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which also causes cancer in other parts of the body, including the throat. Around 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV, and 14 million more people become newly infected each year, usually as teenagers or young adults. It is estimated that nearly all Americans at some point in life will be infected by HPV. This translates to nearly 20,000 women and 12,000 men each year being diagnosed with a cancer caused by HPV.
Thanks to proactive communication from the CDC, providers, and public campaigns like Cervical Health Awareness Month, cervical cancer and related issues have been brought to the forefront of health care education and conversation. Perhaps the most common message spread: most cervical cancers are preventable! Nowadays, we have a safe and effective vaccine that prevents infection by the most common types of HPV that cause cancer. The vaccine has been in use in the United States for over 10 years, and within a few years of its first use in the U.S. new HPV infections among teen girls were cut in half.
Below are other frequently asked questions that our team at Franciscan Children’s Pediatrics fields related to cervical cancer, HPV, and the vaccine:
Q: Isn’t HPV spread by sexual contact? My child isn’t sexually active so why should she or he get the vaccine?
A: Pediatricians recommend vaccinating all children around 11-12 years of age. This is done to ensure that kids are immune to the 9 most common types of HPV that cause cancer BEFORE they will be exposed to them. If you wait until children become sexually active adults, you’ve missed the boat. Because it is so common, HPV infection is likely to have occurred pretty quickly.
Q: Will getting the vaccine encourage my child to think it’s OK to have sex?
A: This has actually been studied. The answer is NO.
Q: Why do boys need HPV vaccine?
A: Males can also get cancers caused by HPV, particularly in the throat.
Q: Is the vaccine really safe? I read on the internet that it can prevent you from having children.
A: The different HPV vaccines have been studied for many years in around 75,000 volunteers of both genders. Like any injection, it can cause minor irritation at the site in which it is given, but that’s about it. Myths about it preventing people from having children (causing infertility) are simply not true.
Q: What about me? I’m a parent but still pretty young myself?
A: Yes! Great question! The vaccine is approved for women up to age 26 years. Men can be vaccinated up to age 21 years, but for some with risk factors, the age also is 26. Ask your doctor!
Q: What about you, doc? Did you vaccinate your children?
A: Yes, I did. I have three young adult children, all of whom received HPV vaccine.
For more information on preventing cervical cancer caused by HPV, please visit the National Cervical Cancer Coalition’s website here, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website here.View All Blog Stories