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HPV vaccine shown to lower cancer risk among girls

image courtesy RLHyde via flickr

Last week, attention was drawn to the declining prevalence of human papillomavirus (HPV) infections in young women by more than half since the introduction of the HPV vaccine.

The real kicker: this decline happened despite low vaccine uptake, demonstrating the potential for an even larger impact as vaccine rates rise.

According to an article in USA Today, a Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study published in The Journal of Infectious Disease, found the HPV vaccine has decreased the incidence of the cancer-causing virus among teenage girls by 56 percent, though only one-third of girls 13-17 have gotten a full course of three HPV vaccine injections.

To shed some light on HPV and the vaccine, Carrie Ann Terrell, M.D., director of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School and director of the Women’s Health Specialists Clinic sat down to answer a few questions.

Health Talk: What population is recommended to get the HPV vaccine? Is it only recommended for women?

Carrie Terrell: Currently the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology women and girls aged 11-26 are recommended to have the vaccine. The FDA has approved the vaccine for girls and women aged 9-26 and boys and men ages 9-26.

HT: What strain of HPV does the vaccine protect against? How effective is it?

CT: The most common vaccine administered is GARDASIL.

  • It protects against the 4 most common HPV strains.
  • For women and it protects against 2 strains that cause about 75% of cervical cancer cases and 2 that cause about 90% of genital warts cases.
  • In boys and young men ages 9 to 26, it helps protect against approximately 90% of genital warts cases.
  • It helps protect girls and young women ages 9 to 26 against approximately 70% of vaginal cancer cases and up to 50% of vulvar cancer cases.

HT: Are there pros and cons to receiving the vaccination?

CT: The pro is preventing cervical cancer and genital warts. The cons are limited to minor site reactions such as:  pain, swelling, itching, bruising, and redness at the injection site, headache, fever, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, and fainting.

Given that the vaccine is essentially the cure for cervical cancer, these risks seem minimal.

HT: Is there a stigma around the vaccine?

CT: Apparently, for some people, yes. There is a negative association of the vaccine with early sexual activity or that parents who administer the vaccine are condoning sexual activity. Clearly, that is not the intent of the vaccine.

HT: What does this study show us about the HPV vaccine?

CT: Rates of HPV infection targeted by the vaccine fell from 11.5 percent in 2003 to 2006 to 5.1 percent from 2007 to 2010 in girls and women ages 14 to 19, a decline of 56 percent, according to new data published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. The effectiveness of getting at least 1 shot in the three-dose series was 82 percent, the study concluded.

HT: What might we learn from this study?

CT: The vaccine works.

HT: Any further information you’d like to share?

CT: I have seen women die of cervical cancer. I have seen young women lose their uterus and be unable to bear children. I have seen women stigmatized by genital warts and HPV infection severely degrading their self-esteem and their ability to have healthy relationships.

I encourage women and parents to meet with a health care provider and discuss the appropriateness and timing of the vaccine for each particular case. Again, it is the cure for up to 75% of cervical cancer! How could a parent in good conscience not ask for this vaccine for her child?

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