The vaccine that can prevent some types of cancer

Published 1:22 pm Saturday, June 30, 2018

Even if you think your teenager is up to date on all of their vaccines, you may want to make sure that he or she has had Gardasil 9, the HPV vaccine.

It is recommended for all adolescents by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Practitioners, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the American Cancer Society and the World Health Organization. But because it is still relatively new, many parents still are not aware of its benefits. Because of that, it sometimes is overlooked.

Human papillomavirus is a group of viruses that cause warts. There are more than 200 types of the virus, and they are easily transmitted by skin-to-skin contact.  About 15 types can infect the genital skin. HPV viruses are so common that experts believe that once a person becomes sexually active, they are almost certain to have been infected by at least a few types of the virus.

Most people infected with genital HPV will not have any symptoms. But some people will develop genital warts, and in others the virus can remain latent for years and eventually result in the development of several different types of cancers.

The most common of these is cervical cancer, which is the fourth-most common cause of cancer in women worldwide and is the cause of about 260,000 deaths every year. HPV viruses can also cause cancers of the vagina, vulva, anus, penis and mouth or throat.

Gardasil 9 is made from proteins found on nine of the different types of HPV.  These types include the ones that cause most genital warts and HPV-related cancers.

There is no infectious material contained in the vaccine. While it can be given anytime between the ages of 9 and 26 years old, it is most effective if it is given before onset of sexual activity when exposure to the viruses is likely to occur. Also, because children under 15 years old are more likely to develop protective antibodies from vaccines than older adolescents, children under 15 only need two doses of the vaccine, while adolescents over 15 should have three doses.

For this reason, ideally it should be given at about 11 or 12 years old. It is estimated that if all 12-year-olds received the vaccine in the United States, more than 200,000 HPV infections could be prevented annually. This also would prevent 100,000 women from having abnormal pap smears every year and would prevent 3,300 cases of cervical cancer in this country.

While HPV-related cancers are not as common in males, vaccination does prevent those that occur in males as well as preventing them from transmitting dangerous viruses to their female partners.

The vaccine also prevents 90 percent of cases of genital warts in males and females. While these are benign growths that usually do not progress to cancer, they are disfiguring and cause embarrassment and guilt that force people affected to undergo painful and expensive treatments to get rid of them.

The safety of the vaccine has been extensively evaluated in large studies, both before and after its release. The most common risk to receiving the vaccine appears to be localized swelling, redness or tenderness. While syncope (fainting) has been reported after receiving Gardasil 9, this reaction is common in adolescents receiving any vaccine and does not appear to be specific to the HPV vaccine.

Reports of serious medical problems developing after receiving the vaccine, such as multiple sclerosis, have been investigated and are no more likely to occur in patients receiving the vaccine than in patients who have not received it. In other words, just because someone receives a vaccine and then develops a disease does not mean that the vaccine caused that disease.

Some parents have also opposed the vaccine based on the concern that if teenagers think they are protected by the vaccine from some diseases that they will be more likely to engage in promiscuous sexual behavior. Studies also have investigated this concern and have shown that adolescents are no more or less likely to engage in high-risk sexual behavior whether they receive the vaccine or not. And because these viruses are so common and usually are contracted during a person’s first sexual encounter, abstinence until marriage is not enough to protect your child from these diseases.

Dr. Bonnie Corley is a physician at Vidant Women’s Care in Washington. She has been practicing for more than 20 years. If you would like to make an appointment, please call 252-975-1188.