Why Get The HPV Vaccine?

22 01 2013

HPV is short for human papillomavirus. About 20 million people in the United States, most in their teens and early 20s, are infected with HPV.

Not only does HPV cause almost all cervical cancers in women, it’s also responsible for other types of cancer.  HPV causes mouth and throat cancer, as well as anal cancer in both women and men.

HPV can cause cancers of the vulva and vagina in women, and cancer of the penis in men. In the United States each year, there are about 18,000 women and 7,000 men affected by HPV-related cancers.

Most of the HPV infections that cause these cancers could be prevented with vaccination.

HPV-related cancers can be devastating, as Jacquelyn, a cancer survivor and mother of two preschoolers, attests.

Soon after her second child was born, Jacquelyn was diagnosed with cervical cancer and needed a total hysterectomy.  “My husband and I had been together for 15 years, and we were planning to have more children—that isn’t going to happen now,” says Jacquelyn.

Although they caught Jacquelyn’s cervical cancer early, she still has medical appointments that take time away from her family, friends and work. “Every time the doctor calls, I hold my breath until I get the results. Cancer is always in the back of my mind.”

HPV vaccines offer the greatest health benefits to individuals who receive all three doses before having any type of sexual activity. That’s why HPV vaccination is recommended for preteen girls and boys at age 11 or 12 years.

The connection between vaccinating kids now to protect them from cancer later isn’t lost on Jacquelyn.  “I will protect my son and daughter by getting them the HPV vaccine as soon as they each turn 11.  I tell everyone to get their children the HPV vaccine series to protect them from these kinds of cancers.”

HPV vaccines are given in a series of 3 shots over 6 months.  It is very important to complete all 3 shots to get the best protection. More than 46 million doses of HPV vaccine have been given out, and vaccine studies continue to show that HPV vaccines are safe.

If your son or daughter hasn’t started or finished the HPV vaccine series yet—it’s not too late! Now is a good time to ask their doctor or nurse about vaccines for your preteens and teens. Visit www.cdc.gov/hpv  to learn more about HPV and HPV vaccines.

By the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention





HPV Vaccine: The Anti-Cancer Vax

15 09 2011

Have you or a loved one ever had an abnormal Pap smear result? If precancerous cells were identified, the cause was almost undoubtedly infection with human papillomavirus (HPV). Almost all cases of cervical cancer arise because of infection with this virus. Yet a vaccine can prevent infection with the strains that most commonly cause cervical cancer.

A vaccine against cancer. It’s true.

For the vaccine to work, though, a woman must have it before HPV infects her. You may find it difficult to look at your daughter, especially a pre-teen daughter, and think of that scenario. But the fact is that even if your daughter avoids all sexual contact until, say, her wedding night, she can still contract HPV from her partner. It happens to be the most common sexually transmitted infection.

About 20 million Americans have an HPV infection, and 6 million people become newly infected every year. Half of the people who are ever sexually active pick up an HPV infection in a lifetime. That means your daughter, even if she waits until her wedding night, has a 1 in 2 chance of contracting the virus. Unless it’s a strain that causes genital warts, HPV usually produces no symptoms, and the infected person doesn’t even know they’ve been infected.

Until the cancer shows up.

And it can show up in more places than the cervix. This virus, you see, favors a certain kind of tissue, one that happens to be present in several parts of you. This tissue, a type of epithelium, is a thin layer of the skin and mucous membranes. It’s available for viral invasion in the cervix, vagina, vulva, anus, and the mouth and pharynx. In fact, HPV is poised to replace tobacco as the major cause of oral cancers in the United States.

The virus can even sometimes pass from mother to child, causing recurrent respiratory papillomatosis, or warts in the throat that must be removed periodically and can sometimes become cancerous. It strikes about 2000 children each year in the United States.

How does a virus cause cancer? To understand that, you must first understand cancer. You may know that cells reproduce by dividing, and that cancer occurs when cells divide out of control. Behind most cancers is a malfunction in the molecules that tell cells to stop dividing. These molecules operate in a chain reaction of signaling, like a series of well-timed stoplights along a boulevard. If one starts sending an inappropriate “go” signal or fails to send a “stop” signal, the cell divides, making more cells just like it that also lack the right signals. If your body’s immune system doesn’t halt this inappropriate growth, we call it cancer.

The blueprint for building these “stop” molecules is in your genes, in your DNA sequences. As a virus, HPV also requires a blueprint to make more viruses. Viruses use the division machinery of the host cell—in you—to achieve reproduction by stealthily inserting their own DNA blueprint into the host DNA.

Sometimes, when it’s finished with the host, a virus leaves a little bit of its DNA behind. If that leftover DNA is in the middle of the blueprint for a “stop” molecule, the cell won’t even notice. It will use the contaminated instructions to build a molecule, one that no longer functions in stopping cell division. The result can be cancer.

Of the 150 HPV types or strains, about 40 of which pass through sexual contact, two in particular are associated with cancer, types 16 and 18. They are the ones that may persist for years and eventually change the cellular blueprint. The vaccines developed against those two strains are, therefore, anti-cancer vaccines.

Without a successful viral infection, viral DNA can’t disrupt your DNA. That’s what the HPV vaccine achieves against the two strains responsible for about 70% of cervical cancers. Recent high-profile people have made claims about negative effects of this vaccine, claims that have been thoroughly debunked. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as always offers accurate information about the side effects associated with available HPV vaccines.

This achievement against cancer, including prevention of almost 100% of precancerous cervical changes related to types 16 and 18, is important.

Worldwide, a half million women receive a cervical cancer diagnosis each year, and 250,000 women die from it. These women are somebody’s daughter, wife, sister, friend. Women from all kinds of backgrounds, with all kinds of sexual histories.

Women whose precancerous cervical changes are identified in time often still must undergo uncomfortable and sometimes painful procedures to get rid of the precancerous cells. These invasive procedures include cone biopsies that require shots to numb the cervix and removal of a chunk of tissue from it. Cone biopsies carry a risk of causing infertility or miscarriage or preterm delivery. A vaccine for your daughter could prevent it all.

HPV doesn’t care if your daughter has had sex before. It’s equally oblivious to whether the epithelium it infects is in the cervix or in the mouth or pharynx or in an adult or a child. What it does respond to is antibodies that a body makes in response to the vaccine stimulus.

Even if your daughter’s first and only sex partner passes along one of the cancer-associated strains, if she’s been vaccinated, her antibodies will take that virus out cold. It’s a straightforward prevention against a lifetime of worry—and a premature death.

For more info: Facts about the HPV vaccine from the National Cancer Institute

By Emily Willingham

Image courtesy of CDC





Does Vaccination Prevent Cancer?

7 03 2011

The history of anxiety about possible negative effects of vaccines is long, tracing back at least as far as Benjamin Franklin. Countering these worries is the fact that vaccines are one of the greatest public health successes of our time, saving millions of lives worldwide.

Now we know that vaccine benefits may extend beyond prevention of the target childhood disease.

An already recognized extra benefit comes with the vaccines for varicella. A varicella vaccine not only can prevent chickenpox in young people, but may also stop the occurrence of shingles in older folks.

Shingles, a neurological attack by the chickenpox virus decades after an infection, can cause a rash that leaves behind chronic, unbearable pain. Vaccination in childhood may protect against shingles, and according to a new study from a Texas group, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, childhood vaccines may offer reduced odds of childhood cancer.

The researchers, going on hints from earlier studies, looked at vaccine rates in specific areas and compared those numbers to childhood cancer rates in the same region. While childhood cancers are rare, they are, of course, devastating. The most common cancers in children are leukemia and brain and spinal cord cancers. According to previous studies, some common childhood infections might increase a child’s risk of leukemia, while vaccinations might reduce that risk. It’s not a nutty idea that some infections—especially viral infections—might be associated with cancer. Indeed, a few viral infections have an established association, including human papillomavirus (HPV, associated with cervical and anal cancers), hepatitis B (associated with liver cancer), and Epstein-Barr (the “mono” virus, linked to a type of lymphoma).

The researchers looked at the 2800 cases of childhood cancer diagnosed in Texas from 1995 to 2006, focusing only on cases diagnosed in children two years or older. For every child diagnosed with cancer, the team identified four more children who had not had cancer, matched for age and sex. As a final step, they then mapped how many children from each group had been born in Texas counties with high vaccination rates.

Their results showed that where hepatitis B vaccination rates were high, odds of all childhood cancers fell by almost 20%. Where rates of inactivated polio virus, hepatitis B, or a specific mix of childhood vaccinations were high, odds of finding cases of a common childhood leukemia, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), dropped by as much as 38%. The biggest dip in odds came with higher rates of Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b) vaccine and ALL, with a 42% decrease in ALL odds where Hib vaccination rates were high.

It’s important to remember that the authors didn’t establish a cause–effect link here. This study is based on the numbers, and the take-home message here is a simple one. The authors put it best in their abstract: “Some common childhood vaccines appear to be protective against ALL at the population level.”





Sunscreen or no? Flip a Coin!

28 06 2010

Have you bought sunscreen lately? From what the advertising claims, we wouldn’t get sunburned even if Scotty accidently beamed us a kajillion miles closer to the sun.

Sunscreens have never been on our list of things to watch.  They basically do one thing, and the higher the SPF rating, the more protected we are. Right?

Well, before we squirt goo from that bottle or mist ourselves, here’s something to think about. The Environmental Working Group studied 500 sunscreens and ended up recommending only 8 percent of those studied.

The problems they found were:

The Personal Care Products Council, an association representing sunscreen manufacturers and others, basically says it isn’t so.  They claim to do all the necessary testing and follow FDA guidelines.

Who should we believe? Wish we had an answer. More studies need to be done by various groups before we can be certain.

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HPV Vaccine – Not Just for Girls

14 05 2010

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine came out a few years ago and it’s recommended for routine use in females.

Now, there’s an HPV vaccine for males, and for good reason.  Boys and men can get genital warts as well as oral, penile, anal, and other cancers from HPV infection.  Also, if a male is infected with HPV, he can infect his partner.

Late last year, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended the vaccine for optional use in males.

So, why is the recommendation optional for males?  ACIP members are not sure if the benefits of vaccinating boys outweigh the costs to do so.

This leaves parents with a recommendation, of sorts, but nothing very clear.

Should you have your boys vaccinated against HPV?

Talk to your son’s healthcare provider. It’s important to get vaccinated prior to one’s first sexual contact, so that’s something to consider as you mull over your choices.

CDC provides some good information about males and HPV infection, if you’d like to start researching the topic a bit more.

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