These days, Dr. Judith Scott at the Methodist Physicians Clinic Women’s Center says it’s rare to see a young girl at the Adolescent Gynecology clinic without it. A series of three HPV vaccines that have played a major role in women’s health care.
“Pediatricians are doing such a fantastic job of getting kids vaccinated for HPV,” said Dr. Scott. “It’s rare these days to have a girl come into our clinic and not had the shot series. It’s made a big impact in the health and safety of women.”
The HPV vaccine prevents infections from the main cancer-causing strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). A sexually transmitted virus, HPV can cause cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers in women. It can also cause penile cancer in men, and anal cancer, throat cancer and genital warts in both men and women.
The HPV vaccine was introduced in 2006, and studies say it’s working. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there has been a 56 percent decrease in vaccine-type HPV among teenagers 14-19 years old since it entered the market. That’s big news since about 19,000 women are diagnosed with cancers caused by HPV each year here in the U.S., with cervical cancer being the most common. About 10,000 women get cervical cancer each year and 3,700 die from it. It is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women around the world.
“We’ve gotten much smarter in the last 20 years about what causes cancer,” said Dr. Scott. “In theory, women who receive the HPV vaccine may never have an abnormal pap smear, but we still recommend women receive them starting at age 21, as a secondary prevention.”
Through immunization, these deadly gynecological cancers are entirely preventable. Clinical trials show HPV vaccines provide nearly 100 percent protection against precancers and for HPV4, genital warts. HPV vaccines are given as a series of three shots over the course of six months, with at least four months separating the 2nd and 3rd doses. It is an inactivated (not live) vaccine.
“It’s recommended that children receive this vaccine around age 11 or 12 as part of their regular immunizations as preteens, before they’ve been exposed to other sexual partners,” said Dr. Scott. “If we can give kids this primary prevention before being exposed to the virus, we are decreasing their risk of developing cancer from the beginning.”
When the vaccine first became available, some parents were hesitant to have their children immunized because of perceived risks. However, studies show the vaccine is safe. Those who receive it may have some pain, redness or swelling at the injection site. In rare cases, patients have fainted after receiving the vaccine, but the risk is no different than any other vaccine.
“If we happen to have a young woman who hasn’t had the vaccine or maybe has missed finishing the series, we recommend they do so,” said Dr. Scott. “Insurance covers the vaccine up to age 26. I recommend that any woman who hasn’t had the vaccine have a conversation with their health care provider to see if it’s right for them.”
The HPV vaccine is just one childhood vaccine that can significantly impact a woman’s overall health. Because August is National Immunization Awareness Month, it’s a great opportunity to talk to your provider about your vaccine history and make sure you’re up to date on any you might need.
|Katina Gordon is a blogger and PR/Social Media Specialist for Methodist Health System.
Contact Katina at MethodistPR@nmhs.org.