Now, a new study in Britain of an early version of the vaccine found that there were 87 percent fewer cases of cervical cancer in young women immunized between the ages of 12 and 13 within 13 years of getting the vaccine, compared with unvaccinated women. Significantly lower cancer rates were also found in women who were immunized between the ages of 14 and 16 and between the ages of 16 and 18, although the greatest benefit was seen in those vaccinated at the youngest age, before most girls were likely exposed to the virus through sexual contact. .
The British study involved a vaccine called Cervarix, which protects against two variants of the virus. The current US version of the HPV vaccine, called Gardasil-9, is even more effective: It protects against nine variants of the virus and is expected to prevent more than 90 percent of HPV-related cancers, said Dr. Aragones. A recent analysis in JAMA Pediatrics found a similar decrease in the incidence and mortality of cervical cancer in young women since the introduction of the vaccine.
Based on a steadily declining incidence of cervical cancer and high vaccination rates in Australia, researchers there predicted that the country would have fewer than four new cases of cervical cancer per 100,000 women by 2028 and virtually none by 2066.
Certainly, regular Pap smears that detect precancerous cervical lesions have greatly helped to prevent the development of invasive cancer, but early detection efforts do not completely eliminate the risk of cervical cancer. This year, the American Cancer Society estimates that 14,480 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the United States and that approximately 4,290 women will die from it. And there’s no screening test like the Pap smear for the other five HPV-caused cancers.
Parental buy-in remains the biggest obstacle
When the real culprit of cancer was identified as the human papilloma virus and a vaccine was finally developed to prevent it, it was an uphill battle for practitioners to convince parents to vaccinate their young daughters. Few have the time and actual ammunition to counter parental fears and misinformation about this vaccine.
Getting parents to agree to immunize boys has encountered an additional hurdle. The vaccine’s original approval to prevent cervical cancer led many parents to question its value to boys, for whom the vaccine was approved three years later. Parents’ resistance to vaccinating their sons rose to 59.2 percent in 2018, up from 44.4 percent just six years earlier
“Parents and caregivers don’t necessarily appreciate the burden of HPV-caused cancers in men,” says Dr. Dean A. Blumberg, chief of pediatrics at UC Davis Children’s Hospital. “The rate of oral and pharyngeal cancers is almost five times higher in men than in women, and they have increased in recent years with the increase in oral sex. The vaccine is important for the boys to protect their own health and that of their future partners.”