HPV Vaccinations Prevent Cancer Later In Life
Parents do plenty of things for kids that won’t pay off until later in life. They buy homes the family grows into, they start educational savings accounts and they stash keepsakes from infancy so they’ll be there one day when the child can fully appreciate them.
Another step they can take is vaccinating their children against the human papillomavirus (HPV). It’s the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States with some estimates showing more than 14 million new infections arise each year in both genders ages 15-24.
Vaccinations can stop some of the health effects caused by HPV, including a number of cancer varieties.
“The virus comes from skin-to-skin contact and from sexual interaction,” said Courtney Backer, MD, Avera Medical Group pediatrician. “Both boys and girls should be vaccinated around ages 9-11, because the vaccine will then help their bodies develop the defenses they need to avoid both genital warts, which can be a lifelong condition, as well as cancers of the cervix, vagina, penis, head and neck.”
Moms and dads of 10-year-olds can be caught flat-footed when considering the facts around this virus. Their kids are still so young, after all.
“Every day, I hear both sides of the discussion with parents. Some will see HPV vaccine as some sort of an STD vaccination. Others realize the real risks that would accompany not vaccinating,” Backer said. “Studies show that when kids receive the vaccine in the recommended age range, it can reduce the risk of these cancers up to 75 percent. It also reduces the risk of genital warts by as much as 90 percent.”
Why So Soon
When children are in the recommended age-range, they can receive two simple office-visit injections in their arm, spaced about six months apart, and complete the vaccination regimen. The two-shot approach works for kids younger than 15; after that age, they would need a total of three shots. By the time a person reaches age 26, the vaccine’s preventive effectiveness diminishes almost completely.
“The biggest worry or stigma some parents have is that HPV vaccination leads to earlier sexual activity, but scientific research has shown that is not true,” said Backer. “The fact is this vaccine can prevent cancer over the course of a lifetime. When parents consider that, sometimes they reconsider their reluctance.”
Preventing Cancer is "No Brainer"
Backer said that no one wants to face the life-changing reality of a cancer diagnosis. That’s why she calls getting this vaccination a no-brainer.
“Many people who have HPV show no symptoms and pass it onto others unintentionally, even after a the teen years,” she said. “Parents and children who have good, open communication about sexual behavior can work through the frank discussions that are a healthy part of kids growing up. As pediatricians, we are here to help moms and dads who need that guidance on this important topic.”
Kids are naturally curious about why they’re getting a shot. “To prevent cancer,” can be enough to say to them at age 11. The rest of the reality of this protective step can be explained when mom and dad feel the time is right.
“Part of the reason for early administration of the vaccine is that DNA replication in our bodies is a long process,” Backer said. “The medication takes time to build the body’s defenses. But it works, in a majority of cases, to stop genital warts, potential infertility issues and cancer.”