Human Papilloma Virus
Devastating, but Preventable!
Every year 250,000 women worldwide die of cervical cancer. In the United States where access to screening (pap smears) and early treatment are available, the number is much lower-just a little over 4,000 deaths a year. Still, more than 12,000 American women are diagnosed annually with invasive cervical cancer. The saddest part is nearly all of these illnesses and deaths could have been prevented.
Cervical Cancer is caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). This virus also causes genital warts and cancers of the vagina, vulva, penis, anus and throat. It is transmitted sexually and is extremely common. It is so common, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report most sexually active Americans will have it at some point in their lives.
Why so common? Humans have sex and HPV is very, very easy to spread during sex by skin-to-skin contact-areas often not covered well by condoms.
The Immune System to the Rescue
In most cases the immune system is very good at fighting off HPV. When it cannot, however, a person is at risk for serious complications, including cancer.
THERE IS GOOD NEWS!! HPV vaccine prevents most (nearly, all) HPV sub-types that cause cancer.
HPV vaccine works by teaching the immune system to recognize and block the HPV virus and keep it from gaining a foothold in the skin of the genitals and cervix. The vaccine doesn't treat HPV, it prevents it. To be fully effective, it must be given before a person is exposed to the virus.
Timing of HPV Vaccine
A great time to begin the 3-dose HPV vaccination series is between the ages of 11 and 13, when kids are getting their Tdap and Meningococcal vaccines.
Physicians and parents who opt to wait until later, run the risk of the vaccine being lost in the shuffle of busy schedules, family dynamics and changing (sometimes challenging) parent-adolescent relationships.
In the US, the average age at which people start having sex is 17. The vast majority (75%) have had sex by age 20.
Eleven year-olds grow up and have sex; with sex, comes HPV. Make sure you've done all you can to ensure a healthy, happy, cancer-free future for your child. Don't wait! Vaccinate now and help make HPV associated cancers things of the past.
Information for Parents, CDC
My Story of Cervical Cancer, American Cancer Society
HPV Champion Toolkit, American Academy of Pediatrics
Last updated 1/18/16